Dozens of tornadoes ripped across southern American states, causing severe damage and killing at least 45 people, officials and United States media said on Wednesday.
Twenty-four people were killed in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas and one in Alabama, according to CNN. Local officials could not immediately confirm the tolls.
Seven people were killed in Kentucky, said Buddy Roggers, of the state’s division of emergency management. Three people were killed in a trailer park in Muhlenberg county, and four others died in Allen county, he said.
More than 50 tornadoes touched down as a series of thunderstorms rare for the winter season rolled through the region late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday.
”It took the whole house,” a woman told CNN. ”I just got up and I thought it was a fire. We got up and there’s no house left.”
A man was found dead in a truck and three other people died in a collapsed office building in the Memphis area, the Commercial Appeal newspaper said.
A tornado with wind speeds estimated at 240km/h destroyed two dormitories at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, injuring 86.
Rescue dogs searched for students in the rubble but no one was killed at the scene, CNN said.
Meanwhile, a huge blaze lit the sky above a natural-gas pumping station north-east of Nashville. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, although it broke out after a tornado ripped through the area.
”We do not know at this time what caused it, and we are attempting to get close enough to get some information. These flames are shooting 400, 500 feet [120m to 150m] in the air,” Tennessee emergency management spokesperson Donnie Smith was quoted as saying by the eFlux online newspaper.
The pumping station operates on a 6 760km pipeline that moves gas through four southern states. Its owner, Columbia Gulf Transmission, planned to stop the gas flow and allow the fire to burn itself out, WTVF television of Nashville reported.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the area were left without power due to the storms.
Arkansas and Tennessee were among states holding nominating votes on Tuesday for November’s presidential election.
Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, celebrating victory in both states, told a crowd: ”We want to keep the people of Arkansas and Tennessee in our prayers. They’ve suffered horrible tornadoes tonight.”
”They are in our thoughts and in our prayers,” said her Democratic rival Barack Obama. ”We hope that our federal government will respond quickly and rapidly to make sure that they get all the help that they need.”
Several polling stations in Tennessee and Arkansas had to be closed as the storm approached, reports said. — AFP