Funnel clouds, large hail and heavy rain pound U.S. Midwest

Thu Apr 3, 2014 10:07pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A storm front packing funnel clouds, large hail and heavy rains rolled through the Midwest and southern United States on Thursday, leaving in its path downed trees and damaged homes, according to local media reports and police.

Officials in Denton, Texas were assessing the damage after an early evening storm uprooted trees and dropped golf ball to softball size hail, according to Ryan Grelle, spokesman for the city's police department.

"Did we dodge a bullet, yes," Grelle said.

In an area from the center of Texas to the northeast corner of Missouri, the National Weather Service noted 34 reports of strong winds that peeled off roofs and downed power lines, and 115 reports of hail.

In the St. Louis suburb of University City, 94 homes were damaged, 20 severely, from a tornado that hit shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, said City Manager Lehman Walker. The twister also uprooted large trees and downed power lines but caused no injuries, he said.

The EF-1 tornado packed winds of about 100 miles per hour, according to Jayson Gosselin, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis. The EF-1 rating is the weakest on the five-step scale of tornado strength.

The storm also produced heavy rain, causing streams to overflow, flooding some streets, Gosselin said.

In Johnson County, Missouri, about 50 miles east of Kansas City, up to 5 inches of rain on Wednesday and early Thursday morning flooded railroad tracks and suspended Amtrak rail service through the area, officials said.

"I have been here 13 years and never has Amtrak been shut down because of flooding," said Gloria Michalski, director of Johnson County emergency services.

One major state highway, along with many other roads, was closed because of flooding for part of Thursday morning, Michalski said. At least two motorists required water rescues, she said.

(Reporting By Kevin Murphy and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone, Gunna Dickson and Diane Craft)

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