Forecasters warned of a “particularly dangerous situation” as a storm system swept across the country on Wednesday, and officials said they feared yard decorations would become projectiles.
A tornado touched down in northwest Mississippi, damaging or destroying at least 20 homes. A tree blew over onto a house in Arkansas, killing an 18-year-old woman and trapping a 1-year-old child inside, authorities said. Rescuers pulled the toddler safely from the home.
Spring-like storms packing strong winds toppled tractor-trailers and knocked down trees, leaving thousands of people without power in Indiana and Arkansas.
In Mississippi, Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett said the only confirmed casualty was a dog killed by storm debris. Planes at a small airport overturned and an unknown number of people were injured.
“I’m looking at some horrific damage right now,” the mayor said. “Sheet metal is wrapped around trees, there are overturned airplanes, a building is just destroyed.”
Broadcast images showed the tornado appeared to be on the ground for more than 10 minutes. Interstate 55 was closed in both directions as the tornado approached, the Mississippi Highway Patrol said.
The biggest threat for tornadoes was in a region of 3.7 million people in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas and parts of Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, according to the national Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma. The center issued a “particularly dangerous situation” alert for the first time since June 2014, when two massive EF4 twisters devastated a rural Nebraska town, killing two people.