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More severe weather expected across region pummeled Tuesday

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A tornado is spotted near midtown Memphis, the weather service says
  • "Roxie" the boxer is found two miles from her decimated home in Oklahoma
  • Airlines cancel about 140 flights out of Dallas-Fort Worth on Wednesday
  • The death toll rises to 16 across three states

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Piedmont, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas picked up the pieces after damaging storms and tornadoes moved through Tuesday night, but national weather forecasters predicted more severe weather Wednesday evening for parts of the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.

Around 7:03 p.m. central time, trained weather spotters reported a tornado near midtown Memphis, Tennessee, according to the National Weather Service.

Tornado warnings were issued for eastern Arkansas, areas of western Tennessee and southeast Missouri.

The jet stream disturbance that was partly responsible for Tuesday's tornado outbreak could cause storms on Wednesday eveningfrom Louisiana northeastward to the lower Great Lakes region, according to a statement from the weather service. Numerous tornadoes were expected to develop, accompanied by widespread damaging winds and large hail, in a region that stretches from northern Mississippi, across parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Indiana, all the way to central and southern Illinois.

Huge swathes of the region have face a "particularly dangerous situation," according to designations by the weather agency. This means that destructive tornadoes, hail up to 3 inches in diameter, wind gusts up to 70 miles per hour and dangerous lightening are possible.

This is bad news for an area still reeling from deadly storms that rolled through less than 24 hours earlier.

Family took cover, had no idea top floors were blown away

Sixteen people were killed by the latest string of severe storms. Ten were in Oklahoma, four in Arkansas and two in Kansas, authorities said.

In Arkansas' Franklin County, a tornado touched down shortly after midnight, killing at least two people, according to Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

The two other deaths were in Johnson County, said Renee Preslar, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

In Stafford County, Kansas, two motorists died when an uprooted tree slammed into their van, according to the state adjutant general's office.

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In Oklahoma, seven people were killed in Canadian County, according to Sheriff Randall Edwards.

Ronnie Funck, a spokesman for the county emergency management office, said more than 100 people were injured.

Two people died in Oklahoma's Logan County, and one was killed in Grady County, according to Cherokee Ballard with the state medical examiner's office.

A 3-year-old who went missing during the ferocious weather in Canadian County remains unaccounted for.

Ryan Hamil was with his mother and his siblings in their home when the storm hit, said Pam Capener, the boy's great-aunt. "Cole, the 15-month-old, did not survive," she said. "Cathleen, who is 5, is in the hospital in stable condition."

Their mother, Catherine Hamil, "has a lot of broken bones, bruises and cuts, but I believe she's stable now, last I heard," Capener said. Hamil is pregnant, and her baby is due in October, she said. "They did get the heartbeat of the baby yesterday, so the baby's stable."

The children's father, Catherine's husband Hank Hamil, was out of town Tuesday but has returned and is searching for Ryan, Capener said.

"Last I heard, they're searching a 16-mile stretch," she said.

She added that she believes the family had taken refuge in a bathtub when the storm barreled through. "I don't know if they were thrown out," she said.

How to help

The family has started a fund to raise money for hospital expenses. The Hamil Family Assistance Fund already had $2,225 in pledges even though it was created only Wednesday.

Teams of rescuers were out Wednesday continuing the search on both land and water.

But there were unexpected tales of joy amid the devastation and destruction.

In Piedmont, Oklahoma, a family now has its beloved dog, Roxie, back, even if there isn't a home to bring her to.

Frank Wood said he was forced to shut the door to their safe room Tuesday evening with Roxie still outside. "I couldn't get her," he told CNN. "The storm was basically just circulating right around the corner. I didn't really have a choice. She just kept running away from me. She was so scared and skittish."

In Joplin, a push to find missing

When Wood and his two children emerged, the house had been ripped to shreds, and Roxie was nowhere to be seen.

She was found the next morning, however, at a work site nearly two miles from the Woods' family home. Chesapeake Energy worker David Franco scooped up the boxer and got Woods number from Roxie's tag.

It's been a historic tornado season in the U.S. More than 500 people have been killed, according to figures from the National Weather Service and local authorities. That makes 2011 the deadliest season since 1953, when 519 people were killed in twisters.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Wednesday in 68 Oklahoma counties hit by the tornadoes and other severe weather. Only nine counties in the state were not included in the declaration.

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"Our hearts go out to those who lost their loved ones in the storms last night, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all the families and communities that have been affected," Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

"These historic storms have highlighted the incredible resolve of the American people, especially the first responders, emergency workers, firefighters, volunteers and neighbors who have been working around the clock for days to respond to these storms and conduct search and rescue efforts. Their efforts have been extraordinary," he said.

Chickasha, Oklahoma, is one of the towns where a tornado was spotted Tuesday night.

"Thank God we weren't (there)," said Pastor Gary Rogers of the Grand Assembly of God church in Chickasha. "No one was there." Half the church's roof was torn off, he said.

Twenty-four hours later, the church would have been bustling with Wednesday activities, he said.

Chickasha is about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.

The tornado "came right past the store," said Chickasha AutoZone employee Nathaniel Charlton. "They had a little debris thrown across the parking lot. It was on the ground, but it wasn't bad."

The tornado that passed through Chickasha also damaged several other communities.

Jeremy Morrison, a truck driver from McAlester, Oklahoma, was hauling a load of freight to Oklahoma City Tuesday night when he spotted a twister. He pulled over and started climbing out of his truck, preparing to enter a ditch for safety, when the tornado disappeared from his sight, he said. He then climbed back into the truck and was set to keep driving when the tornado suddenly struck, lifting the entire rig and throwing it onto its side.

Morrison fell out of the window -- or was sucked out, he's not sure which. He said he ran to check on a nearby car, where he found two people hiding underneath.

Morrison survived with a fractured shoulder bone, he said. His trailer was destroyed.

Aerial video of the incident was captured by CNN affiliate KOCO
.

"We could see debris in the radar returns we were receiving, and that gave us a good indication the tornado was strong and large," said Steve Piltz, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Oklahoma, adding that the tornado was anywhere from a half-mile to a mile wide.

The powerful storms also struck Joplin, Missouri, where a weekend tornado killed more than 120 people, making it the deadliest single U.S. twister since modern record-keeping began 61 years ago.

The city was briefly under a tornado warning late Tuesday before it was raked by blustery winds and peppered with lightning.

Twisters also brewed in Dallas and several northern Texas counties, according to the National Weather Service.

Authorities in Dallas reported an unidentified man died of electrocution. He was found Wednesday morning at an apartment complex, within an area that had fallen electrical wires. Police had previously established a perimeter around the area, but the man apparently entered after the perimeter was established, Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said.

The storms disrupted air traffic, which could have ripple effects for air travel in parts of the country throughout Wednesday.

About 140 flights were canceled Wednesday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, mostly due to the effects of hailstorms that moved through overnight. Neither the airports facilities nor terminals were damaged, according to a statement from the airport, but airlines were still conducting damage assessments, so the airport warned there could be further disruption to flight schedules.

About 10,000 sheltered in the airport overnight, having been stranded by the storms, airport spokeswoman Sarah McDaniel said. Passengers and staff were forced to evacuate to designated shelters inside the airport as storms moved in, she said.

American Airlines and American Eagle had approximately 65 aircraft pulled from service because of weather damage Tuesday night, McDaniel said. Nearly 100 flights were canceled as of early Wednesday, she added. "Some airlines are still assessing hail damage."

Southwest Airlines said Wednesday that it took eight aircraft out of service in Dallas for inspections and repairs because of damage from the weather, particularly the large hail.

Operations at Love Field in Dallas were suspended for a time Wednesday night, spokesman Jose Torres said. The airport moved all passengers and personnel into an airport basement for an hour as winds kicked up and power was lost, Torres said.

When people emerged from the basement, they found damaged aircraft and vehicles. Some passengers slept in that airport as well, Torres said.

The storms left a wide swath of destruction.

Canadian County Sheriff Edwards said Piedmont, Oklahoma, was especially hard hit. "There's more damage in Piedmont because it's the most densely populated area."

A large tornado crossed I-40 near El Reno, destroyed residences and caused a gas leak at an energy plant west of the state capital, he said.

Twenty injuries were reported in the area, but none were from workers at the plant, the City of El Reno Community Services Department said Wednesday.

The twister injured motorists on Interstate 40 and U.S. 81, Canadian County Emergency Management Director Jerry Smith said. There were reports of property damage in the area.

About 1,200 people packed a shelter in Newcastle, a bedroom community near Oklahoma City, during the storm, City Manager Nick Nazar said. "That saved lives."

About 100 people were displaced, and 50 homes were rendered uninhabitable, Nazar told CNN. Two or three businesses were damaged, as was an elementary school.

Statewide, at least 60 people were hurt and nearly 58,000 homes lost power, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Some employees at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, briefly took shelter as a tornado approached, a spokesman for the National Weather Service told CNN.

Emergency personnel were mobilized immediately after the storms, Oklahoma's governor said.

"The National Guard is out helping, our highway patrol, our health department, Salvation Army, Red Cross, all of our first responders are out across the state," Fallin said, noting the massive outbreak of tornadoes that lasted most of Tuesday evening.

"I've been in (public) office for 20 years. I've been through a lot of these natural disasters, but I've never seen this many in a short period of time."

CNN's Ed Payne, Leslie Tripp, Scott Thompson, Dave Alsup, Matt Smith, Tom Watkins, Phil Gast, Dana Ford, Rick Martin, Sean Morris, Vivian Smith, Josh Levs and Joe Sutton contributed to this report.

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