2 more killed, dozens hurt in Southeastern tornadoes

Saturday, April 11th 2009, 9:11 am
By: News 9

(CNN) -- A tornado descended on Murfreesboro, Tennessee Friday, killing two people and injuring another 30, an official said.

Two people were critically injured by the tornado, which hit the city, located about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, around 1:40 p.m., Donnie Smith, public information officer with the Tennessee Department of Emergency Management in Nashville said.

The search-and-rescue effort was continuing into the evening, Smith said, "so it's possible that may not be all."

Many homes were damaged, others were destroyed and power lines were down across Murfreesboro, said Randy White, a public information officer with Rutherford County Emergency Management.

The bad weather began around noon, when a band of severe thunderstorms swept across the state from the southwest, Smith said.

Elsewhere in the region, the town of Mena, Arkansas, is cleaning up after a tornado roared through, killing three people and damaging or destroying more than 100 homes, an Arkansas official said.

The town looked like a "war zone" as soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard went house to house searching for victims of the twister that hit Thursday night, said Capt. Christopher Heathscott.

About 50 soldiers also helped with security and food distribution.

Gov. Mike Beebe planned to fly over Mena on Friday afternoon.

Mena, population 6,000, took a heavy hit on the west side of town, as the storm swept through downtown before heading up state Highway 71, said Tommy Jackson from the state Department of Emergency Management.

"It looks like a war zone out here," said James Reeves, also from the department.

The tornado damaged the county hospital, Mena City Hall, a middle school, churches, a library, the Masonic lodge and the courthouse -- which houses the 911 emergency dispatch center and a detention center, Reeves said. He said electricity and gas were out in the western half of the city.

Two plants at an industrial park were destroyed, said reporter Charles Crowson of CNN affiliate KTHV-TV. He said utility crews were trying to stop a gas leak there.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told Crowson the county detention center was "uninhabitable." There were 18 inmates in the jail at the time of the tornado, and they were moved to neighboring jurisdictions, he said.

There were 24 reports of tornadoes in the area Thursday night, said CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano, and wind gusts reached more than 70 mph.

"So a significant severe weather event last night, and we expect similar action later on today, although it's all moving to the east," he said Friday morning. "It went from Oklahoma across the border toward Arkansas."

Winds will continue to be gusty until later in the afternoon, Marciano said.

As the storms moved east, thunderstorms were predicted, and there was a chance for more tornadoes. Large hail and damaging winds were predicted for the Southeast later Friday.

In Mena, officials set up three shelters, but fewer than 50 people had sought refuge in them. In this rural community, most people are staying with friends and family, Reeves said.

All three victims were elderly, officials said. A man and a woman died when houses collapsed, and another woman died after being struck by debris.

Beebe sent 30 National Guard soldiers to the town Thursday, and 20 more are expected Friday.

( CNN's Melissa Roberts and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.)