Severe storms sock Midwest, push east; 2 dead
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Two deaths have been blamed on a strong spring storm system that's brought everything from tornadoes to ice and snow to much of the Midwest and parts of the southeast United States.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said Thursday one person died and several people were injured after a reported tornado struck Kemper County in the far eastern part of the state.
Tabatha Lott, a dispatcher in Noxubee County, said there were "numerous reports of injuries" in the town of Shuqualak, though it wasn't immediately clear how many were injured. Flynn also said there are reports of damaged buildings and many power outages.
The T-shaped system first swept across the nation's midsection Wednesday night and pummeled portions of Missouri, where the National Weather Service said Thursday that an EF-2 tornado appears to have damaged dozens of homes in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood. That category of tornado generally packs winds of 113 to 157 mph.
Crews with the weather service still were assessing whether tornadoes were to blame for other damage in Missouri and neighboring Illinois, meteorologist Mark Fuchs said. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency shortly after the storm swept through the eastern part of Missouri, bringing hail, up to 2 ½ inches of rain and strong winds.
"This is going to be a daylong investigation by our crews," Fuchs added. Utility workers scrambled to restore power to more than 23,000 still-affected Missouri homes and businesses.
In the upper Midwest, thousands of homes and businesses also lost power because of heavy wet snow, ice and wind in the past couple of days, while rain and snow raised flooding concerns in various areas of the Midwest. A suspected tornado caused damage in Arkansas.
The second death was reported in the Nebraska Pandhandle, where a woman died Tuesday while trying to trudge through a blinding snowstorm from her disabled car to her house a mile away.
On Wednesday, seven members of the Sullivan, Mo., municipal airport board were gathered at the airport Wednesday night for a meeting. A member noticed what looked like funnel clouds over the 7,000-resident town about 65 miles southwest of St. Louis. Then, a wind-blown pickup truck then scooted by — without a driver. The gust was clocked at 101 mph.
"The city administrator said his ears were popping, then all of a sudden the building shook and the windows shook," board member Larry Cuneio said. "I'm the street commissioner and I've seen wind do a lot of things, but never anything like this."
Across the Mississippi River in Alton, Ill., Dave Grounds was watching TV when he heard the rain suddenly intensify, followed by winds that he said had "incredible resonance."
"That's when the house started shaking violently, like it was grabbed by both sides," said Grounds, a judge for Madison County's juvenile court. "I thought it was an earthquake, and that's when things started collapsing."
Two large trees — one oak and the other ash, each a century old — toppled onto one end of his house of 43 years, caving in his bedroom and crushing two of his vehicles.
"Electricity lines came down and started sparking like it was the Fourth of July, and the whole house filled with smoke," said Grounds, 64.
At least eight homes were damaged in the St. Louis neighborhood known as the Hill, famous for its Italian heritage and restaurants. Mobile homes were blown over in parts of Franklin and Washington counties, not far from St. Louis.
Fuchs said the storm, which affected numerous states, was the result of a clash of warm and cold air — typical for spring.
On Thursday, the system moved through the Southeast, with high winds knocking over trees and power lines in rural west Alabama and eastern Mississippi. About 50 school systems in central and north Alabama sent students home early, and a few government offices and businesses also closed early.
A tornado reportedly touched down Wednesday near Botkinburg in north-central Arkansas and injured four people, said John Robinson, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.
In South Dakota, snow and ice shut down several roads, including Interstate 90 for a time. Emergency crews were working Thursday to reach isolated tribal members near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to get help to those with medical needs, such as dialysis. Deadwood, S.D., was buried under 30 inches of snow that fell over a three-day period.
The weather service said the system could extend into flood-prone southeastern North Dakota, where about 3 to 5 inches of snow is expected through late Thursday.
"Any additional precipitation at this stage in the game is not necessarily a good thing," said Peter Rogers in Grand Forks.
In Wisconsin, storms with rain and ice caused about 30,000 outages. Most of the power was back on Thursday, but many schools remained closed.
Parts of Michigan got more than a foot of snow. Flood watches — the result of heavy rain and melting snow — were in effect through Friday for much of the central and southern Lower Peninsula.
In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton said the weather was taxing the resources of local and county governments, and he issued an executive order activating the National Guard.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.