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Tornado, severe storms hit Mississippi after 16 die in three states

Tornadoes, severe storms hitting Mississippi
Tornado watches in effect in Mississippi, residents warned to seek cover

MAYFLOWER, Ark. -- Even as Arkansas tried to recover from a series of storms that killed 16 people in three states, parts of Mississippi braced for the next outbreak of tornadoes and other deadly weather on Monday.

Most of Mississippi, from Yazoo City north and east, was under at least a tornado watch and parts of northern Mississippi, around Tupelo, were under a tornado warning, a more urgent advisory, according to the National Weather Service. A severe weather advisory was issued for part of Louisiana, Alabama and Tennessee as well.

At least one tornado was reported near Tupelo, with damage reports beginning to come in Monday afternoon and no word yet of injuries associated with it, according to the National Weather Service. More tornado activity was expected as the afternoon moved into the evening.

Mississippi locations included in the warning were: Verona, Chiwapa, Chapelville, Eggville, Indian Hills, Belden, Chesterville, Flowerdale and Bissell, the service said. In some towns residents were told to take cover.

The region was hit by tornadoes three years ago, an area well-known for the danger of such inclement weather that threatens from mid-March through June. The tornado season, so far, has been quiet, Chris Buonanno of the National Weather Service office in Little Rock told the Los Angeles Times.

Since Sunday, however, that quiet was shattered in at least three states where 16 deaths have been reported. Fourteen people have been confirmed dead in Arkansas, with most around Vilonia, outside the capital of Little Rock. Eight adults and two children were killed in Faulkner County, which includes Vilonia, three people in Pulaski County and one in White County.

Earlier officials had put the death total at 16 but revised it downward because some people had been counted twice.

One weather-related death was reported in Oklahoma and Iowa for a tentative total of 16.

“We don't have a count on injuries or missing. We're trying to get a handle on the missing part,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said at a news conference on Monday. “Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we have seen.”

Early reports said the tornado that touched down in Arkansas was at least half a mile wide and cut a swath of as much as 80 miles long through the state. It could have carried winds of more than 136 mph, making it an EF-3, one of the strongest measured. But weather officials warned a final determination will require analysis of the damage.

President Obama, who is traveling in Asia, called Beebe to express his condolences to those who lost relatives. Federal Emergency Managment Agency administrator Craig Fugate is traveling to Arkansas on Monday to ensure the appropriate federal resources are available, the agency announced.

“Severe weather is continuing to have impacts across the region, so stay informed about changing weather conditions and know what to do during a tornado by visiting ready.gov,” Fugate stated. “FEMA is working to support the efforts of state, tribal and local first responders as they help residents affected by these storms.”

The agency is bracing for widespread severe storms -- including strong tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail – through Monday night over parts of the eastern United States from the Mississippi Valley to the Appalachians. The greatest risk is forecast from southern Kentucky and Tennessee south into Mississippi and Alabama, officials said.

In southeastern Iowa, a woman was killed when either a tornado or powerful straight-line winds caused a farm building to collapse. A tornado was blamed for the death of a person in Quapaw, Okla., before it crossed into Kansas, where it destroyed more than 100 homes and businesses, and injured 25 people in the city of Baxter Springs, according to Kansas authorities.

Arkansas remained the hardest hit and rescuers continued their work through the afternoon looking for people and trying to assess the damage. The winds were so fierce that cars were blown around like matchsticks and trucks bounced along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. Among the ruins was a new intermediate school that had been set to open this fall. It had been built after the old school was destroyed in a 2011 tornado.

“There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again,” Vilonia Schools Superintendent Frank Mitchell told reporters after surveying what was left of the building.

Sunday was the third anniversary of a tornado outbreak that struck from April 25-28, 2011. Parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia were hit by 358 tornadoes. More than 300 deaths were blamed on the outbreak.

The tornado tore through Arkansas, killing five in the state and four in Vilonia.

In Mayflower, another area hard hit by the tornado on Sunday, Danny Brown, the owner of Mayflower RV, said he knew the tornado was coming, but never expected such destruction.

“I’m from Arkansas—we hear the warnings all spring,” he said.

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