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7 hurt in Arkansas storm; Deep South braces for tornadoes

Storm damage in northwest Arkansas near George Elementary School in Springdale.
Springdale School District
Storm damage in northwest Arkansas near George Elementary School in Springdale.

Severe storms that included at least one tornado injured several people, damaged homes and businesses and downed power lines in Arkansas and Missouri overnight as twisters and hurricane-force winds were forecast in much of the Deep South on Wednesday.

No deaths were reported from the storms late Tuesday and early Wednesday, officials said.

The storms included a likely tornado about 4 a.m. in Springdale and the adjoining town of Johnson, about 145 miles (235 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock. In northwest Missouri, a weak tornado struck St. Joseph on Tuesday night, according the National Weather Service. The storms come a week after a tornado in a New Orleans-area neighborhood carved a path of destruction during the overnight hoursand killed a man.

Seven people were injured in Washington County, Arkansas, two critically, said Emergency Management Director John Luther, who had no additional information about them.

“Search and rescue teams have been deployed, as there are significant damages and injuries,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sellers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said investigators were still assessing the destruction in northwest Arkansas early Wednesday afternoon. While the weather service hadn’t yet confirmed a tornado struck, “we’re pretty certain that’s what occurred,” Sellers said.

The Missouri tornado damaged two homes in St. Joseph, but no injuries were reported. The tornado was rated as an EF-1 and brought winds of up to 90 mph (145 kph).

Damage was extensive in Springdale, including to an elementary school gymnasium and a warehouse, KFSM-TV reported. The Springdale School District, which is the largest in Arkansas, canceled all classes Wednesday.

“We have some commercial buildings and residences and everything in between ... with severe storm damage,” Luther said.

A tornado watch was issued for most of Arkansas, northern Louisiana, southern Missouri, southeastern Oklahoma, and northeast Texas through early Wednesday afternoon.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said all of Mississippi and parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee were at the greatest risk for severe weather Wednesday. More than 8 million people live in that area, which includes the cities of Memphis, Tennessee; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Montgomery, Alabama.

“We expect several tornadoes (Wednesday), some of which could unfortunately be quite intense,” said Bill Bunting, Chief of Forecast Operations at the Storm Prediction Center.

The worst weather was expected in the afternoon.

Schools in Memphis and dozens in Mississippi closed early or conducted classes online Wednesday as a precaution against having children in crowded buildings or on buses.

“Today’s weather may not impact some folks while others may experience one of the worst days of their life,” Stephen McCraney, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said in a briefing.

Officials in various Mississippi counties were opening safe locations for people worried about staying in their home during the storm. In Louisiana, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency advised people living in temporary housing such as trailers after Hurricane Ida to be on the alert and know where to go in case they need to evacuate.

Associated Press journalists Jill Bleed reported from Little Rock, Ark., and Ken Miller reported from Oklahoma City. AP's Jay Reeves in Newnan, Ga.; Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark.; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tenn.; and Margery Beck in Omaha, Neb.; contributed to this report.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.