Severe storms across the Midwest caused heavy flooding and violent tornadoes Monday, killing five in Arkansas and forcing residents in a Missouri town to pack up and flee to higher ground.
Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesman Tommy Jackson said two people died in the central Arkansas town of Vilonia, where a tornado likely ripped through the area. In the state’s northwest, three people died after their vehicles were swept off the road.
"The town's gone," Vilonia resident Sheldon Brock said outside a gas station a few miles outside of town.
Brock told The Associated Press he was standing in his front yard and watched storms pass over his home, leaving him and his family unscathed, while strong winds and a possible tornado destroyed homes and businesses and yanked down power lines. Heavy rains sent water from nearby creeks washing over their borders.
Vilonia's fire chief, Keith Hillman, said 50 to 60 weren't accounted for, but he expected many simply weren't reachable. He said he didn't expect the death toll to rise significantly. Fire crews wrapped up work overnight and planned to resume early Tuesday morning.
Heavy rains and saturated grounds threatened a levee in the town of Poplar Bluff, Mo., forcing the evacuation of 1,000 people as police said a catastrophic failure of a levee along the Black River was imminent.
"Everybody pretty much went voluntarily," said James Sisk, information officer for the police department.
Forecasters called for severe storms that will drop more heavy rain across the lower Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, compounding the misery from a storm system that pounded the region last week and over the weekend, spawning tornadoes and washing away roads. Some places have seen 10 to 15 inches already, and the worst flooding may not come until Wednesday.
"We've got water laying around everywhere looking for somewhere to go," said David Nickell, a college instructor in Ledbetter, in western Kentucky's Livingston County, who did not plan to leave his home even though floodwaters were rapidly approaching.
Flood warnings have also prompted evacuations of hundreds of people in Indiana, Kentucky and parts of Ohio, Reuters reports.
Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday to help communities threatened by flooding.
"There have been many evacuations in small pockets of populations along the Missouri/Arkansas border," said Bill Davis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, Mo. "There are a lot of low-lying bridges and roads in that area that can be dangerous."
In Poplar Bluff, about 150 miles southwest of St. Louis, some of the evacuees sought shelter at the town's Black River Coliseum, a 5,000-seat concert and meeting venue that overlooks the swollen Black River and a park that's already under water. Others were staying with friends and relatives. There were no reports of injuries.
A steady stream of vehicles arrived at the Coliseum before midday, dropping off residents carrying belongings in plastic sacks.
Rev. Gregory Kirk, pastor of the United Gospel Rescue Mission in Poplar Bluff, said he got the call early Monday to prepare to feed evacuees sent to the Coliseum. He'd been up since 4 a.m. preparing food, even though one of his main suppliers was already flooded.
"We feed everybody," he said. "I'm stressed out. I've been up all night."
Dozens of roads and several schools were closed by flooding and flash flooding across Kentucky and Missouri.
The Associated Press contributed to this report