LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Tornadoes fueled by unusually warm air pummeled the South and Midwest on Friday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more across Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.
Three people died in the northwestern Arkansas hamlet of Cincinnati when a tornado touched down just before sunrise, and three others died when a storm spawned by the same weather system ripped up the Missouri countryside near Rolla. A number of storms were also reported in the St. Louis area.
Storms later Friday knocked out power to more than 19,000 Mississippi residents, while broad swaths of Louisiana and Mississippi were under severe weather watches and warnings that threatened New Year’s Eve revelry.
“It sucked me out of my house and carried me across the road and dropped me,” Chris Sisemore of Cincinnati said. “I was Superman for a while. … You’re just free-floating through the air. Trees are knocking you and smacking you down.”
Sisemore said he tried to crawl under his bed and cling to the carpet, fearful a nearby pecan tree would fall into his home. As he nursed cuts, scrapes and bruises to his arms, knees and back, he recalled opening his eyes as he flew because he didn’t believe he’d see 2011.
“I wanted to see the end coming. You’re only going to see it one time and I thought that was it,” he said. “It takes more than a tornado to get me.”
In south-central Missouri, 21-year-old Megan Ross and her 64-year-old grandmother Loretta Anderson died at a Lecoma farm where their family lived among three mobile homes and two frame houses, Dent County Emergency Management Coordinator Brad Nash said.
Another woman was killed north of Rolla, not far from Lecoma, when a tornado destroyed a home, according to emergency managers in Phelps County.
In Arkansas, Gerald Wilson, 88, and his wife, Mamie, 78, died in their home and Dick Murray, 78, died after being caught by the storm while milking cows, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said.
At Fort Leonard Wood, a tornado with winds of 136 to 165 mph demolished about a dozen homes and caused lesser damage to many more in a neighborhood that houses officers.
An overnight tornado of undetermined strength damaged buildings and boat docks around Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri, leaving several boats adrift after wrenching them from their moorings. Several homes and businesses were damaged around noon in the St. Louis County town of Sunset Hills, and a church was damaged in nearby Fenton.
In Illinois, a tornado may have touched down in Petersburg, northwest of Springfield, where about two dozen homes were damaged – some severely – and a woman was injured when her car was struck by a falling tree branch.
The National Weather Service said spotters in Mississippi reported seeing a possible tornado over Interstate 55 near Jackson on Friday afternoon.
While spring brings most of the region’s tornadoes, violent weather at this time of year isn’t unheard of. A February 2008 outbreak killed 31 in Tennessee and 14 in Arkansas.