Heavy storms rake Midwest

April 9, 2009 8:51:50 PM PDT
A tornado struck a small Arkansas town on Thursday night, causing minor injuries, as part of a severe storm system moving quickly across the nation's midsection. The reported tornado scored a direct hit on the Polk County Courthouse in Mena, near the Oklahoma state line, said Renee Preslar, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Gov. Mike Beebe dispatched 30 National Guard soldiers to the town after local officials asked for troops to secure the heavily damaged downtown area, Preslar said.

Twelve minor injuries were reported in Mena, but authorities were going door-to-door checking for more injuries. A 13th person was hospitalized in Howard County after a tree was toppled onto a house.

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.

Damage also was reported in eastern Oklahoma, apparently from the same storm.

Preslar said local officials had asked utility companies to shut off all gas lines to Mena and surrounding areas. Sadler said troopers reported a gas main had been ruptured.

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.

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.

In North Texas earlier in the day, officials said wind gusts delayed flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

"Our biggest problem is extremely strong cross winds - heavy, westerly winds," said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman.

The winds also fueled grassfires that forced some evacuations across portions of North and West Texas on Thursday.

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