Tornado in northwest Arkansas injures 7, destroys part of school

At least seven people were injured, two seriously, when a tornado touched down in northwest Arkansas early Wednesday morning, damaging buildings, knocking out power and displacing residents, officials said. .

A National Weather Service team that was dispatched to Springdale, Ark., to confirm the tornado found damage consistent with a category of tornado that can have wind gusts of up to 135 miles per hour, according to Robert Darby, a Weather Service meteorologist in Tulsa, Okla.

“It’s officially rated as a strong tornado,” Darby said of the storm’s 2 rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. “These nighttime tornadoes are particularly dangerous when people are sleeping and may not receive warnings,” he added.

Seven people were taken to area hospitals, including two in critical condition, Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said in a statement.

While grateful that no fatalities were reported, he said “many residents were displaced from their homes and many businesses reported significant damage”.

Roads were closed and downed trees and power lines were reported, according to the Springdale Police Department. Local media footage showed roofs ripped off homes and businesses.

The Springdale School District closed schools Wednesday due to inclement weather and power outages. The district reported extensive damage to George Elementary School in Springdale.

“The gymnasium was destroyed and the kitchen and cafeteria were badly damaged,” the school district said on Facebook.

As the storm system moved east across Arkansas, the Little Rock Weather Service issued a tornado watch for parts of the state, as well as parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, noting that multiple tornadoes were likely.

The weather service warned of wind gusts of up to 80 mph and said hail as large as a quarter was possible in those areas.

Later Wednesday evening, the Weather Service said a line of severe storms was moving east from the Mississippi into Alabama and parts of Tennessee with 60 mph winds and there had been at least one report of a small tornado.

In Southaven, Mississippi, south of Memphis near the Tennessee border, the police department said a roof collapsed on a warehouse. The building was evacuated and everyone was safe, police said.

In Whiteville, Tenn., east of Memphis, police said they were responding to multiple reports of tornadoes. No one was reportedly injured, police said, but downed trees and blocked roads were reported and around 50 people sought refuge at a primary school.

In central Alabama, residents posted photos on social media of downed trees and power lines, as well as the Birmingham Weather Service office. mentioned there had been a “confirmed tornado” in Marion, Perry County.

Nearly 52,000 customers in Mississippi, 37,000 in Louisiana and 25,000 in Tennessee had lost power as of Wednesday night, according to PowerOutage.US, a website that aggregates utility data. Arkansas’ Emergency Management Division said Verizon reported 40 to 60 sites were down, disrupting service.

A tornado watch had been in effect until 9 p.m. local time for parts of Louisiana, including the New Orleans area, which last week was hit by a tornado that killed at least one person and caused heavy damage and power outages. And earlier this month, a tornado was blamed for at least one death in Texas, where a storm system left a trail of destruction as it moved over parts of the Deep South.

Michael Levenson contributed report.

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