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Tornado strikes eastern Missouri town

Barry Phillips helps friends salvage items from their homes in a neighborhood of historic houses Tuesday in Jackson, Tennessee.
Barry Phillips helps friends salvage items from their homes in a neighborhood of historic houses Tuesday in Jackson, Tennessee.

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DE SOTO, Missouri (CNN) -- For the second time in three days, Missouri came under attack from a tornado and this time a small town on the state's eastern edge bore the brunt of the damage it caused.

The twister struck "numerous buildings" in De Soto Tuesday night, police and sheriff's officials said, and caused the junior high school to collapse.

"It's pretty disastrous," said Adam Sitton of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. He did not know of any injuries at the junior high.

Jason Law, owner of J.P. Carson's Restaurant on North Main Street, said the storms came through town around 7 p.m. (8 p.m. ET) and were continuing two hours later. He said heavy rain caused about a foot of water to rush through Main Street like a river.

"We've been pretty much cut off since about 7:30," he said.

Law said a telephone pole with electrical lines had fallen onto the roof of a building in town, and trees were snapped. Large pieces of metal were impaled in the back of his restaurant, he said.

"There has been a tragedy in De Soto," said a dispatcher for the town's fire department, without giving any details.

De Soto, in Jefferson County and about 40 miles south of St. Louis in eastern Missouri, has a population of about 6,400.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch and a flash flood warning for the county, in effect until midnight. A flood watch was also in effect.

Seven counties in central Missouri and two counties in eastern Kansas experienced hail the size of golf balls and 70 mph winds Tuesday afternoon, said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service. He said there were storms "with rotation" winds, which posed a threat of tornadoes.

"One storm after another" lined up from west to east in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana, CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers said. The storms were expected to move into eastern Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi on Wednesday.

Missouri seeks federal help in wake of Sunday's twisters

Missouri Gov. Bob Holden declared a statewide emergency Monday and asked President Bush to declare dozens of counties federal disaster areas.

Missouri officials revised the statewide death toll upward to 18, five of which were in the battered area around Pierce City which was hit by a twister Sunday.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Cecil Whaley said Tennessee's death toll went up to 15, and Kansas remained at seven -- creating a total death toll of 40 people from Sunday's storms across the three states.

Northeast Alabama and northern Georgia spent Tuesday under tornado warnings as bad weather moved through. In Georgia, tornadoes were spotted in Smyrna, just north of Atlanta, and in Bartow County and in northern Alabama.

The threat moved quickly eastward into South Carolina, where tornado watches were issued, but the storm left heavy rains and flash floods in its wake.

Earlier Tuesday, warnings were posted for Grundy and Coffee counties in southeast Tennessee, near where 15 people were killed in tornadoes Sunday night.

A tornado was reported during a heavy storm at Meridianville, Alabama, north of Huntsville, but the damage was minor, said Scott Worsham from the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

Trees and power lines were knocked down in the county, and flash flooding and other wind damage were reported. Worsham said volunteer firefighters reported seeing the funnel.

Tennessee town struggles to recover

In Jackson, Tennessee, part of which was devastated by a tornado Sunday, Mayor Charles Farmer said 300 people were sheltered at a basketball arena. He said two people were missing in the town, and nine people were confirmed dead.

There was to have been a mayoral election Tuesday in Jackson, but it was postponed.

The structural integrity of bridges was a concern along secondary roads in a dozen counties where the rain has been the heaviest, said Whaley. Several more days of rain are forecast, Whaley said.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander were touring storm-damaged areas in Madison County.

Sunday's tornado in western Tennessee was determined to be an F4 -- meaning winds topped 207 mph. It damaged about 1,600 homes and businesses, Whaley said. (Fujita scale)

History destroyed in small town

The sound of chain saws echoed through Pierce City, Missouri, a town of 1,400 that was littered with debris. Holden said as many as eight people were missing.

CNN's David Mattingly reported that many of the town's old buildings will have to be torn down. The National Guard Armory, where 40 people sought shelter and one died, has blown-out windows and a collapsed roof.

More than 80 twisters were sighted in central and Southeastern states Sunday evening, said Dick Hainje, a regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The National Weather Service will not know how many tornadoes touched down until a storm survey team has assessed and tracked the damage, said Dan McCarthy of the Storm Prediction Center.

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