ST. LOUIS, Mo (Reuters) - A tornado destroyed 50 to 80 houses and killed at least one person in an Arkansas town on Monday and floods caused at least three deaths in the state as storms continued to lash the region, authorities said.
In Missouri, a warning of imminent failure for a levee on the Black River in the southeast part of the state prompted the mandatory evacuation of about 1,000 people.
In Vilonia, Arkansas, a town of some 3,000 people north of Little Rock, one death was confirmed and between 50 to 80 houses were destroyed by a tornado, according to Faulkner County emergency management. Police reported a path of destruction half a mile wide.
Law enforcement officials said there was another fatality in Washington County in northwest Arkansas from a drowning when a woman was swept away by rapidly moving water. The Madison County Sheriff’s Office also said an elderly couple died after they were swept away in their car as War Eagle Creek rose in northern Arkansas on Monday afternoon.
The storms and flooding were the latest in the violent weather that has pummeled much of the mid-South this month. Two weeks ago at least seven people died from tornadoes in Arkansas, as more than 47 people died as storms tore a wide path from Oklahoma all the way to North Carolina.
Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe on Monday declared a state of emergency in response to tornadoes and flooding, which have caused problems on a number of roads and highways.
On Interstate 40 near Morrilton, vehicles were blown off the road, according to Arkansas State Police.
They said a church was destroyed at Morgan, Arkansas, just northwest of Little Rock. One tornado struck Little Rock Air Force Base, with initial reports indicating at least four homes in base housing were damaged. More than 100,000 people were without power in the state, authorities said.
In Missouri, water was topping the Black River levee at several points, which may lead to a failure of the levee system between the city of Poplar Bluff and the town of Qulin, the National Weather Service said on Monday.
County officials evacuated about 500 structures in the southeastern part of Poplar Bluff, which has about 17,000 residents.
Flood warnings on Monday prompted evacuations of hundreds of people in Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri following days of rain that led to rivers cresting over the flood stage, according to forecasters.
“The ground is very saturated — there are areas with 9-10 inches of rain,” said Mike O’Connell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
He said some local roads are flooded in southern Missouri, and drivers were being warned not to go past barriers.
Governor Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday to help in areas hit by flooding.
Nixon also criticized U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to intentionally breach Birds Point levee along the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri. He said that would affect hundreds of families and “pour a tremendous amount of water into 130,000 acres of prime farmland.”
A spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers was not immediately available for comment.
The Black River is expected to rise higher than it did in 2008 when heavy rains caused widespread flooding, according to the National Weather Service in Little Rock.
Portions of two state parks in northwest Arkansas were closed due to the rising of the river. Many schools in northeastern Arkansas also closed Monday because of flooding.
Parts of Utica in southern Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky, also had flooding, according to Mike Callahan, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville.
“This is the worst flooding we’ve had since 1997,” he said.
Callahan said more flooding was reported in western Kentucky and southern Illinois. People who live along the Ohio River near Louisville started leaving their homes ahead of the flood late last week, and some roads around the city were closed, he said.
Bill Davis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield, Missouri, expects problems to be especially bad along the Taneycomo River in southwest Missouri.
“It’s only (going) to get worse over the next couple of days,” said Davis. “There’s going to be more water on top of water.”
Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Susan Guyett and Suzi Parker; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton