At least five people were killed in a pre-dawn tornado that touched down in southeastern Missouri on Wednesday, and teams of first responders were combing destroyed homes and businesses in the rural area for more victims.
The fatalities were reported in Bollinger County, where multiple local agencies were conducting search and recovery efforts, Sheriff Casey Graham said on Facebook.
Photographs on social media from Glen Allen, Missouri – a village about 110 miles (177 km) south of St. Louis – showed severely damaged houses with roofs sheared off, downed trees and power lines and debris covering roadways and yards.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see people’s homes missing roofs and their homes gone,” Missouri State Patrol Highway Sergeant Clark Parrott told Reuters said after surveying the damage. “We got work ahead of us, but we will get through this.”
Parrott said multiple people were injured, but did not have an exact number.
Storm spotters reported the tornado touched down in the area at about 3:30 a.m. local time (0800 GMT), according to the National Weather Service. It was one of more than a dozen spotted in the Midwest overnight, the service said.
In Marble Hill, three miles (5 km) to the east of Glen Allen, Chris Huffman, 45, said he raced to his basement with his wife and two daughters after hearing tornado sirens and the power went out.
Outside was pitch black and there were dark clouds, high winds and rain, and bursts of lightning over Glen Allen off to the west, where the tornado struck, Huffman said.
“It was startling,” he told Reuters in a phone interview from his sandwich shop, Munchies, where he was preparing food for crews and those in need. “We heard the roar of everything. That’s how close it was.”
Huffman said his home and business were not damaged, but he has friends in Glen Allen who suffered a lot of damage.
“You feel helpless,” he said.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson said in tweet that he planned to visit the county but did not say when, as he expressed gratitude for first responders and neighbors who helped neighbors.
The twister was spawned from a storm front sweeping across the Midwest and South on Wednesday. Some 24 million Americans in Indiana and Ohio south through northern Mississippi and Alabama were under the threat of possible tornadoes and severe thunderstorms throughout the day.
The storm front left some 60,000 homes and businesses in the Midwest, Arkansas and Texas without power on Wednesday afternoon, according to Poweroutage.us.
The storm comes days after violent tornadoes tore through parts of the South and Midwest, and as far east as Delaware, killing at least 32 people and leaving damaged and destroyed homes and businesses in their wake.
A week before, a tornado devastated the Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork, destroying many of the community’s 400 homes and killing 26 people.