Tornadoes rake US South, at least 26 dead

Tornadoes and thunderstorms ravaged several states in the American South overnight, killing at least 26 people, injuring dozens and causing widespread damage, emergency services and local media said.

CNN television news reports put the death toll at 27.

The violent storms swept across Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, overturning trucks, trapping people, ripping up houses, smashing cars and uprooting trees. By early Wednesday morning, the city of New Orleans and the states of Alabama and Georgia were also under tornado warning.

Two of the states hit by the tornadoes — Arkansas and Tennessee — were involved in Super Tuesday as 24 states across the country held nominating contests ahead of November’s presidential election.

Several candidates expressed condolences to the victims as they addressed supporters, and there were media reports that at least four polling stations in western Tennessee were closed because of the storm.

At least 12 people were killed in Tennessee, according to the Nashville Tennessean newspaper’s online edition. The roof of a warehouse collapsed in Memphis, killing at least three, while north-east of Nashville, a massive fire erupted at a petrol station with flames shooting up about 150m in the air, the paper said.

In Arkansas, emergency services reported 11 dead after tornadoes hit as many as eight counties.

”It’s a pretty rough night in the scope of it. I don’t know if I can remember when we’ve had as many [tornado] warnings and touchdowns,” Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said by telephone from an emergency operations centre in North Little Rock.

The governor’s spokesperson, Matt DeCample, said there was ”no clue” of how many were injured. ”We’re getting answers back in the multiples, but we’re still looking for folks,” he said.

In Kentucky, at least three people were killed at a mobile-home park, the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper reported.

Widespread damage

Extensive damage in Tennessee included part of a shopping mall in Memphis and a dormitory at Union University in Jackson, where some students were trapped for a time but not seriously injured, according to the website of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The newspaper quoted a National Weather Service spokesperson as saying the Memphis area had been hit by a ”pretty significant tornado”.

CNN reported as many as 86 injuries and an unknown number of fatalities from the storm system, which swept through Arkansas before moving into Tennessee.

ABC affiliate WAPT in Jackson, Mississippi, reported that a 15m wall had collapsed at the Sears store in the Hickory Ridge Mall in south-east Memphis, and a building caught fire along State Line Road at Airways Boulevard.

The Jackson Sun reported that a nursing home had been seriously damaged, but the 114 residents were evacuated with no injuries reported.

The Nashville Tennessean newspaper, citing the Fayette county sheriff’s department, said one man had been found dead north of Somerville, Tennessee. The paper reported that the National Weather Service had recorded a half-dozen tornadoes in Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

It also reported that 60 tractor-trailers had crashed on an interstate highway. — Reuters

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