Deadly Storm: Tornadoes Lash Midwest
(CNN) — Mississippi bore the brunt of a storm system that spawned a tornado and is blamed for at least one death Thursday afternoon.
Emergency management officials in Kemper County confirmed one death due to the severe weather, and several injuries.
In neighboring Noxubee County, a “violent and extremely dangerous” tornado was spotted near the city of Macon, the National Weather Service said.
The storm knocked out electricity in Macon, and there were reports of damaged homes and businesses in nearby Shuqualak, Macon City Clerk Beverly Shelton said.
As officials assessed the situation, new reports of damage began to stream from across the Mississippi border in Alabama.
A path of destruction that included lots of downed trees was reported in Pickens County, Alabama.
The potential for twisters, damaging winds and large hail continued to threaten portions of Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, the weather service said.
Severe storms are also expected across the eastern Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys.
Earlier, the weather system struck Missouri and Arkansas, where residents are grappling with the aftermath of a series of storms that spawned at least two tornadoes.
At least 24 homes in Hazelwood, Missouri, sustained severe damage from Wednesday night’s storms, the St. Louis County Office of Emergency Management said.
One tornado touched down in the St. Louis suburb, ripping the roofs off of several homes, Hazelwood communications manager Tim Davidson said. No serious injuries were immediately reported.
Hazelwood resident Alisa Daffin spent the night in her bathroom as the storm moved through.
When she woke up Thursday, “it was pitch black and I started having a panic attack,” she told CNN affiliate KMOV. “I looked outside, and it got worse.”
What she saw were downed trees and power lines. Her home was without electricity or water.
“It looks like a war zone, it doesn’t look like my home,” she told KMOV.
Daffin walked half a mile to an elementary school where the Red Cross had set up.
After the warning sirens went off Wednesday night, Gary Buneta decided to walk to the back of his house, where he thought he would be safe, but the tornado beat him to it.
As he was walking through the house, there was a loud pop, then flying glass before he rose off the ground and was thrown on his kitchen floor. Debris from the ceiling fell, and then it was quiet, he told KMOV.
“The wind just picked me up and moved me that far across my kitchen,” he said.
Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri after the series of storms pummeled the St. Louis area and elsewhere across the state. Nixon will tour damaged areas Thursday, his website said.
Another tornado touched down in Arkansas, damaging at least 33 homes and leaving three people injured in Van Buren County, about 75 miles north of Little Rock.
The twister demolished the sanctuary, a fellowship area, classrooms and a pavilion at Botkinburg Foursquare Church, its pastor said.
“If the tornado would have come an hour and a half later, we would have been caught in it,” said Senior Pastor Ester Bass, referring to Wednesday night services.
No members of the church were injured.
But a passing motorist who parked his truck in the church drive-through to get out of the dangerous weather had a close call when the storm struck.
“It shook the truck and just lifted the roof right off the drive-through,” said Bass. “He was all right.”
Bass, 63, said his congregation of about 100 was left stunned.
“It is just devastating. My wife and I are just torn,” he said. “We put a lot of sweat and hard work and it was paying off. The church was growing.”
As church leaders prepared to meet with their insurance adjuster, the pastor was thankful for a loyal membership.
“They will be with me,” he said. “They are ready to buckle down and do what we have to. With the Lord’s help, we are going to rebuild.”
Damage also was reported in Fulton County, near the Missouri border, and in Conway, Lincoln and White counties. About 15 homes were damaged in Izard County, said Tommy Jackson of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.
Storm spotters reported overturned vehicles along U.S. 65, north of Clinton.
The severe weather season started late in Arkansas because of a chilly March, Robinson said. So far this year, six tornadoes have been reported — about half the normal numbe