LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Storms packing heavy rain and high wind damaged homes and other buildings in several Southern states and killed at least two people.
Power failures and wind damage were reported in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee on Thursday. Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were reported and a tornado was confirmed in eastern Arkansas, the National Weather Service said.
"Some of the trees that made it through Katrina might not make it through this," said Ceroy Jefferson, assistant superintendent for Mississippi's Jefferson Davis County Schools, one of many counties that dismissed students early.
Unusually severe straight-line winds did much of the damage, the National Weather Service said.
A lightning-sparked house fire killed an 83-year-old man in southwest Arkansas, and heavy rains caused a traffic crash that killed a woman near Memphis, Tenn., authorities said.
Residents were assessing damage Friday in Tennessee.
A half-dozen people inside the Yorkville Cumberland Presbyterian Church escaped without injury when the building was struck by lighting and caught fire Thursday afternoon, Fire Chief Carmon Lannom said. The 19th-century, wood-frame church was destroyed.
A tornado stayed on the ground for nearly 8 miles in eastern Arkansas, the weather service said. The twister Thursday injured four people and damaged 18 homes, a church and other structures.
There also were reports of a tornado touching down at an elementary school in Indianola, Miss. Children huddled in hallways as the storm passed through.
"Some windows were blown out and some water damage was sustained in classrooms and the school library," said Valerie Simpson, assistant principal of Lockard Elementary School.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee declared disasters for five counties.
Around Little Rock, the high wind rolled over a mobile home and damaged about a dozen other homes, and trees and power lines were down around the state.
About 7,600 homes and businesses in Arkansas lost electricity when power lines went out after being hit by trees or other power lines, and the wind kept workers from making immediate repairs.
"It's kind of like a yo-yo out there," Entergy Arkansas spokesman James Thompson said.
Storm debris blocked U.S. 64 and Union Pacific Railroad tracks for a time, and a train had to be halted so the debris could be cleared from the tracks.
A bridge collapsed in Tennessee, and three Southwest Airlines flights into the Nashville airport were diverted due to the weather. The were allowed to fly to Nashville after the storms passed, Southwest spokeswoman Angela Vargo said Friday.
The high winds in Mississippi took off roofs and otherwise damaged homes in Bolivar and Panola counties, said Lea Stokes, spokeswoman for the state emergency agency.