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At Least 5 Dead in Tennessee Flooding, Officials Say

Tennessee Flooding

May 1: Kristi Hellerman walks her daughter Kallie Cox, 3, through their flooded neighborhood near Pleasant Planes.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Heavy thunderstorms lashed parts of western Tennessee with almost a foot of rain, leading to the deaths of five people and flooded neighborhoods, roads and waterways.

The line of storms also dropped reported tornadoes and hail along the Mississippi River Valley in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and northward. The forecast called for more rain through the weekend.

Hundreds of homes had been evacuated and shelters were being opened across the state for people stranded due to flooded roads. Heidt said crews were called out for swift-water rescues from Nashville to Memphis.

"It's so widespread, it's a very serious concern," he said. The deaths were in reported in Stewart, Davidson, Williamson and Carroll counties, he said.

The five deaths in Tennessee were related to the storm, but the exact causes were not yet known, Jeremy Heidt, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said Saturday evening.

The Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville reported that two of the victims were swept away in a rain-swollen creek in Stewart County, about 65 miles northeast of Nashville.

The southwestern part of the state was extremely hard hit, with several Memphis-area streets declared impassable. Memphis received 10 inches or more of rain during the day and officials were warning that 4 to 8 more inches could fall overnight and into Sunday.

Corey Chaskelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a levee had been breached along the Big Creek River in Millington. He said 4 to 5 feet of water had flooded 200-300 homes at the Naval Support Activity base in Millington.

Emergency officials in Shelby County said hundreds of people were being evacuated due to high water, including residents of the Navy base and inmates at a federal prison.

Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, said most of the roads into and out of Millington had been cut off by flooding.

At the Baker Community Center in Millington, where a Red Cross shelter was set up, retiree Joe Curry, 74, said he and his wife were rescued from their home in a boat Saturday morning after the water had risen to 7 feet.

"It rose so fast we couldn't get out," said Curry, who spent the day at the Red Cross shelter until family members could pick him up. "It's a mess."

Erick Hooper, 19, said there was water in his living room when he woke up Saturday morning.

"It kept rising, and it was too cold to swim, so I went on the roof," he said.

Hooper spent the day on the roof of the mobile home until rescuers picked him up in a boat. A pillow and a blanket were all he managed to take with him.

Jerry Fritts of the Red Cross said about 100 people were expected to spend the night at the Millington shelter. "So many roads are blocked that some people have waited all day for their family to come get them," Fritts said.

Waters were washing away parts of roads and bridges in the Jackson area, said Marty Clements, director of the Jackson-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

"We've basically become an island because the major highways and roads are cut off," he said Saturday evening. "We can't get in or out."

Clements said there have been gas leaks and water main breaks due to the flooding and both area hospitals were running on generators temporarily during the day.

He said emergency officials have asked all events be canceled on Sunday, even church services, to keep people from trying to venture out in the floodwaters.

Charles Shannon, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department, said one person drowned in flood waters on Interstate 24 south of Nashville.

In Nashville, emergency responders had rescued 50 people from flooding, Mayor Karl Dean said. Police Chief Ronal Serpas said two police officers had to be rescued from a tree.

Segments of Interstate 40 were closed between Nashville and Memphis. Pooling water in the median and along the sides of the highway gave some sections the appearance of a causeway.

The National Weather Service said up to 12 inches of rain had fallen along areas of Interstate 40 since midnight and up to 6 more inches was expected through Sunday.

The same line of storms pummeled parts of Arkansas on Saturday, a day after a tornado killed a woman and injured two dozen others. At least two more tornadoes touched down in the region late Saturday, but no injuries or major damage was immediately reported.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency Saturday after visiting a community south of Little Rock hit hard by Friday's storms, and he was scheduled Sunday to visit heavily damaged areas north of the city.

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