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Storm, hail, reported tornadoes pummel parts of South

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Storms damage homes in Mississippi
  • Tornado touchdowns reported near Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Storms reported in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana
  • Tornado warning in Rome, New York

(CNN) -- Storms in the lower Mississippi valley Tuesday night unleashed baseball-sized hail, high winds and twisters, including one that lifted a tractor-trailer, the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologists from Texas to Kentucky, a day after a similar round of storms, were flooded Tuesday evening with reports of severe storms or tornado touchdowns and resulting damage.

According to the agency's Storm Prediction Center, there were 29 tornado reports -- many in northeast Texas -- by late Tuesday, but the actual number had not been confirmed.

Matt Bishop with the weather service's Fort Worth office said the staff had heard of multiple reports of damage in northeastern Texas, although he was unaware of any injuries.

"We're in the middle of a severe weather outbreak," he said at 7:45 p.m.

At least two rounds of storms had struck Kaufman, Texas, about 30 miles east of Dallas, by Tuesday evening and another was on the way.

"It's a little bit of everything around us," said Kaufman Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Pat Laney. "It's been a chaotic afternoon."

She had heard of some damage, but no reports of injuries. "We've been very blessed," Laney said.

Two reported tornadoes touched down in Coahoma County, Mississippi, said emergency management director Johnny Tarzi. Two homes were destroyed in the city of Coahoma and five were heavily damaged in Friars Point, with about 15 sustaining minor damage.

Trees and homes also were reportedly damaged at Moon Lake, said Tarzi. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Coahoma County is in western Mississippi, near the Arkansas border.

The Little Rock, Arkansas, office received reports of hail, downed tree limbs and the incident involving the tractor-trailer in Coy, on U.S. 165, said forecaster Brian Smith.

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About 24,000 people lost power Tuesday night in the Memphis, Tennessee, area.

A twister was reported at Marion, Arkansas, west of Memphis.

"It's going to be a busy night," said Z.E. Ingram of the weather service's Memphis office.

The Shreveport, Louisiana, office issued about 15 tornado warnings, and had received many reports of funnel clouds and tornado touchdowns, meteorologist intern Matt Hemingway said.

Meteorologists at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, office tracked a string of storms and possible tornado activity near Fort Smith, Arkansas, said forecaster Chuck Hodges. There were reports of hail and winds reaching 80 mph near Fort Smith.

Forecasters issued a tornado watch for northeastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, eastern Arkansas, southeastern Illinois, western Kentucky, southeast Missouri, northwest Mississippi, western Tennessee, eastern Illinois, much of Indiana, northwestern Ohio and much of Michigan until 10 p.m.

This is a "particularly dangerous situation," the Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said of the outlook for tornadoes. Destructive tornadoes, softball-size hail, wind gusts to 70 mph and dangerous lightning are possible in and near this watch area.

The bad weather extended to the east. A tornado warning was issued Tuesday afternoon in Rome, New York. "Very large hail and damaging winds" can also be expected, forecasters said.

Typically, only a handful of days per year reach high-risk criteria, said CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen.

On Wednesday, portions of Kentucky and Tennessee will be at moderate risk of severe thunderstorms, along with northeast and east-central Mississippi, the northern half of Alabama and northwest Georgia, the Storm Prediction Center said. An area between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains is "likely to see a widespread/potentially dangerous severe weather event," forecasters said.

The stage may be set for a potential record-breaking month for tornadoes nationwide, according to the center. The long-term average for confirmed tornadoes in April is 116. The previous record for April is 267 confirmed tornadoes in 1974, which includes the historic "superoutbreak" of April 3 and 4 that year. According to the center, the likely total of confirmed tornadoes through April 24 is between 200 and 275.

In Arkansas, more than 60,000 people were without power Tuesday after a rash of severe storms tore through the state Monday, leaving 10 dead and destroying more than a dozen homes.

According to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, four fatalities were storm-related and six resulted from flooding.

In Faulkner County, at least four people died in the severe thunderstorms, according to Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management spokesman Stephen Hawk.

Two people died in Madison County, one in Washington County, two in Benton County and one in Perry County.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe toured the Faulkner County town of Vilonia on Tuesday, telling CNN affiliate KATV, "These folks have suffered some terrible losses."

House-to-house searches were being conducted in Vilonia, Hawk said. About 15 houses are destroyed, he said, and "within the three-mile path of the storm, everything was affected. There are untold numbers of affected houses ... The only grocery store in town, the roof was pretty much torn off."

On Monday night, Madison County Sheriff Phillip Morgan said the bodies of an elderly man and woman were found after floodwaters swept away the couple's car on Highway 23 south of Huntsville, in northwest Arkansas. The deaths are attributed to rising flood waters along War Eagle Creek.

Also in northwest Arkansas, the Washington County Sheriff's Office confirmed the death of 38-year-old Consuelo Santillano, who authorities say was swept away by rapidly moving water across Highway 265 South.

And a possible tornado struck Little Rock Air Force Base in central Arkansas, damaging at least 100 housing units and knocking out power to some parts of the base, military officials said.

Bob Oldham, a spokesman for the base, reported two minor injuries and some damage to aircraft at the base.

Beebe told CNN later in the day that three C-130s were damaged to the point that, according to preliminary reports, they are inoperable "without significant repairs."

The state also saw seven deaths in an earlier round of severe weather this month.

Other parts of the state were flooded after several days of unceasing rain.

Steve Wilkes of Fayetteville said his house was spared damage from a nearby flooded creek, but some of his friends are dealing with flooded basements.

"I've lived here for more than 20 years. I've never seen anything like this in my life," Wilkes said. "I saw water 2 to 3 feet deep across roadways that have never flooded."

In various parts of the state, the storms flipped over cars, damaged homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands, emergency management officials said. Some areas reported gusts of up to 70 mph.

CNN's Dave Alsup, Scott Thompson, Phil Gast, Sean Morris, Anna Rhett Miller, John Branch and Holly Yan contributed to this report.