MENA, Ark. – A tornado struck a small Arkansas town Thursday night, killing three people, injuring at least 24 and seriously damaging about 100 homes.
Mena, near the Oklahoma state line, suffered a direct hit that destroyed at least 10 businesses, including city hall and two churches, Polk County emergency coordinator James Reeves said.
"One manufacturing plant is gone," he said. "It took a direct hit. It's no longer there."
The National Weather Service said a woman was injured at Shreveport, La., when a tree fell onto her car during a tornado. Twisters also damaged homes east of Vinita and near Muse in Oklahoma and at Crossett in far southern Arkansas, near the Louisiana line.
At Mena, one of the victims killed in the storm was found in a collapsed house, one in a Masonic lodge, and another was found in her front yard, he said. The identities of the two women and a man have not been released.
The 24 injured people were being treated at Mena Medical Center. The devastated downtown area was being protected by National Guard troops dispatched by Gov. Mike Beebe.
A curfew was in effect as emergency crews dealt with ruptured gas lines, downed power lines, fallen trees and heavily damaged buildings.
Reeves said he had never seen a storm like this hit the tornado-prone region.
"Not in my life time," he said. "The last tornado we had to hit the city of Mena was in November 1993. This time we had significant structures (hit)."
Officials described a chaotic scene Thursday night as the tornado struck, part of a line of severe storms that strafed parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.
A state trooper in Mena called for assistance after his patrol car got stuck in the storm, pelted with debris and covered with power lines, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.
"I'm in the middle of a tornado," Sadler said the trooper reported.
The National Weather Service reported that 3-inch diameter hail — forecasters described it as apple-sized — fell south of Mena just before the tornado hit downtown. Tornado damage was also reported at Ink, 5 miles east of Mena.
A twister damaged chicken houses in Howard County and another storm damaged an oil rig in Miller County, near the Louisiana and Texas state lines. At DeQueen, a number of mobile homes were damaged, according to Renee Preslar, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management.
Violent thunderstorms moved quickly across southern Missouri, carrying large hail, winds up to 60 and 70 mph and reports of funnel clouds and tornadoes. There were no immediate reports of heavy damage. Scattered power outages were reported in several counties.
As the storms moved east, hail and high winds were reported in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Power was out in many parts of the region.