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Storms slice through Mid-South

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Severe weather slammed the Mid-South Tuesday night, killing at least four people while causing a swath of damage from DeSoto through Shelby and Tipton counties.

Two men and a woman died in a collapsed Hickory Hill office building while a Fayette County man was found dead in a pickup truck north of Somerville.

Memphis Fire Department spokesman Lt. Keith Staples said 12 people have been taken to area hospitals as of about 9 p.m. Two were in critical condition.

 The storm toppled a wall at the   Sears store in the Hickory Ridge Mall. At least 30 tornadoes were reported to the  Memphis National Weather Service office.

Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal

The storm toppled a wall at the Sears store in the Hickory Ridge Mall. At least 30 tornadoes were reported to the Memphis National Weather Service office.

Mikell Sparks, 21 (center), and Terron Chambers, 20,  ran out of the Sears only to see the tornado hovering overhead. They dashed back inside. Justin Shaw Special to  The Commercial Appeal.

Mikell Sparks, 21 (center), and Terron Chambers, 20, ran out of the Sears only to see the tornado hovering overhead. They dashed back inside. Justin Shaw Special to The Commercial Appeal.

The wall collapsed at the Sears store in Hickory Ridge Mall at Ridgeway and Winchester after severe weather passed throught the area.

Photo by Nikki Boertman

The wall collapsed at the Sears store in Hickory Ridge Mall at Ridgeway and Winchester after severe weather passed throught the area.

Video

Video from Hickory Ridge Mall.

Video from Hickory Ridge Mall. Watch »

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At least two dormitories were destroyed and the roof of a classroom building was sheared off at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., following Tuesday’s storms.

By 11 p.m., two students remained trapped in the dormitory debris, but a university spokesman said no life-threatening injuries had been reported. Initially, 12 were pinned in the wreckage.

Classes have been canceled for the rest of this week and all of next.

“We’ve had a pretty significant tornado come through Memphis, we believe,” National Weather Service spokesman Todd Beal said.

Authorities confirmed a tornado touchdown near Arlington, said Jeremy Heidt, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

The Hickory Ridge Mall sustained “severe damage,” including a collapsed roof and walls, according to Staples, who said firefighters were still evacuating the building as of 6:40 p.m.

Added MFD division chief Daryl Payton: “We had to evacuate a large number of civilians, but fortunately there were some injuries but no medical transports. It was just a major time trying to evacuate people because people were afraid to leave the building.”

According to Fayette County officials, Neal Glover was killed when his pickup truck flipped as he was trying to leave his home north of Somerville on Yum Yum Road. Fayette County Insp. Ray Garcia said there had been no reports of other fatalities or major injuries.

Earlier Tuesday evening, crews battled an apartment fire near the Wolfchase Galleria mall. Staples said the fire was contained and he has not received reports of any injuries.

The Memphis Fire Department is advising citizens to stay out of the area surrounded by Hickory Ridge on the west, Kirby Parkway on the east, Raines Road on the south and Knight Arnold on the north.

Police, who have shut down Winchester west of Kirby, are also working to secure the scene to prevent any looting.

As of 8:15 p.m., about 20,000 peple were without power, Memphis Light Gas and Water spokesman Chris Stanley said.

In Southaven, emergency personnel and equipment were rushed to a warehouse roof cave-in behind Kroger.

Bobby Storey, director of emergency management, said the storm caused a roof to cave in and the walls to collapse at a site across from M&H Construction.

Storey was uncertain whether anyone was injured.

“We’re sending all we can to Southaven,” he said.

Olive Branch police Chief Art Heun said several of his officers were sent to help in Southaven.

At City Hall in Downtown Memphis, the blaring tornado sirens prompted a 30-minute recess of the City Council’s regular meeting at about 5:20 p.m.

Everyone still working at that hour, from council members to City Hall staff to Mayor Willie Herenton, crammed into the basement to wait out the storm.

At the Memphis International Airport, officials suspended flights for a short time, shut down the tower and escorted passengers and workers in the terminals into safe rooms away from windows, said John Greaud, the airport’s vice president of operations.

The airport was closed for about 10 minutes but has reopened and traffic is moving on two runways.

Also, half the roof of the Pinnacle hangar at 2934 Winchester blew off. Debris from that is scattered across Runway 927, which is closed for now.

Northwest says that the jetway at Gate B39 was damaged in the wind.

No Pinnacle planes were damaged in the hangar or on the airfield.

FedEx is reporting damage to its fire station, while the company’s de-icing equipment may have been damaged by debris.

Although little has been confirmed yet, the NWS has received reports of tornadoes near Highway 70 and Highway 385, another near Horn Lake, one near Goodman Road and Highway 61.

Beal said homes have been damaged in the Pleasant Ridge and Pleasant Grove communities in the south part of Memphis.

Some homes have been damaged in Arlington and the Godwin subdivision in northeast Shelby County, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Shular said.

Officers and reservists are out assessing damage and assisting where needed, Shular added.

Memphis police are responding to numerous traffic accidents across the city, a spokesman said.

Three motorists on Paul Barret Parkway were injured this afternoon about 5 p.m. when strong winds blew part of a roof off a house.

A man driving a Carrier Air Conditioning truck was being treated by a Rural Metro ambulance. The damaged truck, which may have been hit by the debris, came rest to in the debris of the roof.

Bill Deering, a service technician with Absolute Comfort Heating & Air Conditioning, was returning from his last call of the day in northeast Shelby County and was westbound on Paul Barret. Deering was on the phone with his boss, Ed Taylor, co-owner of the company.

“He said he was going home and I told him to be careful because of the weather,” Taylor said. “All of a sudden he starts hollering, ’Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ I said, ’What Bill?’ He said, ’There’s a house flying at me!’ “

Taylor said Deering said the truck rolled over three times. He said Deering was not injured seriously, but was complaining about an injured shoulder.

Deering was worried about the new truck. Taylor said, ’Don’t worry about the truck. We’ll get a new truck.”

About 300 yards to the east, an SUV carrying three workers going home from a remodeling job, was hit when part of the house roof crashed onto the truck. Two of three three of the men in the SUV were hurt but not seriously.

In Tipton County, law enforcement officials spotted a funnel cloud that didn’t touch down in the Cotton Lake area near U.S. 54 and U.S. 14.

Sheriff J.T. “Pancho” Chumley said a home on Antioch Cotton Lake Road was destroyed and an adjacent home was damaged, but neither was occupied.

The residents of the destroyed home sought refuge under the Hatchie River Bridge on U.S. 54.

“That saved their lives,” Chumley said.

In the Charleston area of north Tipton County, a home on Smith Drive was destroyed and another was damaged, Chumley said.

Also on Smith Drive, a propane tank was destroyed and firefighters were working on a gas leak.

Chumley said there were no reported injuries in Tipton County, but officials were gearing up for a second round of storms

“Haven’t seen one this bad in a while,” Chumley said.

In Mississippi, the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office reported a tornado struck in Oxford, causing extensive damage. There was no report, as yet, on injuries.

The severe weather that swept through Shelby County hasn’t halted Super Tuesday voting, said Shelby County Election Commission administrator James Johnson.

Johnson said that with 40 minutes left in voting he had not gotten any “adverse reports” from any of the polling precincts.

“We’re going to the end,” Johnson said.

Contributing: Sherri Drake, Trevor Aaronson, Dakarai Aarons, Tom Bailey Jr., Clay Bailey, Cathryn Stout, Alex Doniach, Jane Roberts, Michael Erskine, Kristina Goetz, Cindy Wolff, James Dowd