Storms pound heartland; 2 die in Oklahoma flooding

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (AP) -- A line of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and even snow pounded the nation's heartland on Thursday, flooding nearly 200 roads in Missouri, closing schools in Arkansas and ripping the roofs of dozens of houses in Texas.

The band of storms stretched from Colorado and Nebraska, which was expected to get up to 10 inches of snow, to Texas, where high winds and driving rain at one point quarter of a million people were left without power.

In Missouri, 3 to 4 inches of rain fell in just a few hours, unleashing flash floods that swamped parts of 180 roads across the state.

Rescuers using ropes and life jackets pulled nine people from the offices of the Monett Times newspaper after the Kelly Creek burst its banks and surrounded the building. Police said the creek also threatened other businesses in downtown Monett and forced the evacuation of a nearby trailer park with about 10 to 12 homes.

Times publisher Lisa Craft said the afternoon newspaper's presses were high enough not to be threatened. But she said it was unclear when staff could get back in the building.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said the Meramec, the eastern Missouri river that flooded in March and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents, could reach what the service considers "major" flood stage in Arnold, about 20 miles south of St. Louis.

In Texas, at least 100 homes and buildings were damaged in West Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. A gas field worker who was inside a trailer south of Fort Worth when a possible tornado struck had an arm severed up to the elbow.

Straight-line winds carved out a destructive path across the city of Hurst, just east of Fort Worth. Downed trees littered residential neighborhoods, blocking streets, snapping utility poles and snagging power lines. Some large tree trucks had snapped just a foot or two above ground level.

Evelyn Wooten, 69, said she spent early Thursday morning sitting alone in a front-hall closet wearing a motorcycle helmet and waiting out the storm in the sturdiest room in her house.

"I wasn't going to be hit in the head by a two-by-four," Wooten said, supervising the cleanup of her Hurst home, which was punctured by a falling tree. "I just made me a cozy little den in there."

At one point, Oncor had about 250,000 customers without power in North Texas. Some could remain without power until Saturday.

In Oklahoma, authorities said two motorists died in separate incidents when their cars skidded off wet roads and collided with trees.

In northwest Oklahoma City, engineers were assessing the condition of a detention pond dam near Lake Hefner that appeared to be in danger of breaking. Crews worked to install pumps to lower the water level, Laura Story, an assistant city engineer, told The Oklahoman.

In Arkansas, dozens of roads flooded across the state and schools in Norfork, Marshall and Viola closed due to high water.

A confirmed tornado touched down in Grant County, destroying a barn and killing four cows and a donkey.

In Washington County, in the state's northwest, officials said damage to roadways was unprecedented. To the south in Sebastian County, cleanup continued from a hailstorm that ripped up roofs and broke windshields as the first wave of storms moved through Wednesday night.

Winds of 70 mph were recorded in thunderstorms in the state's northwest Thursday.

Flights at Little Rock National Airport were suspended for just under an hour because of a tornado warning. Airport spokesman T.J. Williams said between 300 and 400 people were moved to safe places away from windows.

The heavy rain caused the Mississippi River to swell and the Army Corps of Engineers plans to open a spillway north of New Orleans for the first time in 11 years to ease the pressure on levees and spare the area from flooding.

Friday's planned opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, about 30 miles above New Orleans, will mark only the ninth time its been opened since its completion in 1931.

Meanwhile, snow was falling across Nebraska, South Dakota and Colorado. Up to 13 inches fell in the Colorado mountains, forcing the postponement of the Atlanta Braves-Colorado Rockies game and closing part of Interstate 70 in eastern Colorado.


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