LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Violent storms ripped across the southern U.S. overnight and Friday, killing at least 10 people including three children, and cutting a path of destruction through Little Rock, Ark. and Jackson, Miss., authorities said.
Six of the seven fatalities in Arkansas were caused when uprooted trees smashed into houses, National Weather Service meteorologist John Robinson said.
The trees were falling through houses, Robinson said, adding that he could not recall a time in recent memory when so many fatalities occurred because of fallen trees in Arkansas.
In Oklahoma, two elderly sisters were killed when a tornado hit the double-wide mobile home they occupied, according to school board President Bennie Evans.
Among the dead in Arkansas Friday were two boys, ages 6 and 7, and an 18-month-old girl. The seven-year-old and his mother were killed after a tree fell on their house in Little Rock.
“All I heard was a boom boom,” said a neighbor, Jennifer McShane, while surveying the destruction.
The storm left Little Rock with uprooted trees, downed power lines and destroyed traffic signals, Robinson said.
A series of four tornadoes in western Alabama left one dead and several injured, authorities said. An elderly man in Marengo County was killed when the mobile home he was in was blown off its foundation, said Kevin McKinney, Emergency Management Director for the county.
Three other people in his county were injured. McKinney said his department was making house-to-house searches of the rural county.
In neighboring Choctaw County, two people were transported to the hospital earlier in the day, and emergency workers were still trying late on Friday to get to a home where someone was trapped and needed medical attention. The path was blocked by fallen trees, said emergency director J.A. Cowan.
Other injuries were reported in Sumter County and Greene counties in Alabama, according to Don Hartley, Regional Coordinator of the emergency agency.
The storm struck Alabama as the state prepares for several large events this weekend said Art Faulkner, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. There are sporting events at the University of Alabama and Auburn University, and a major NASCAR race at Talladega expecting more than 100,000 fans.
The Talladega Superspeedway alerted fans on its web site to watch the weather and take necessary precautions.
Local officials reported severe structural damage in Jackson, Miss., with electric lines down and roofs off. An 18-wheel semi-trailer truck flipped over on I-20, shutting down the highway. There have been no fatalities reported, though eight people have been injured, one critically, authorities said.
“It was like a bomb went off,” said one man in Clinton, Miss., north of Jackson, who did not wish to be identified. His home was destroyed when a tornado passed through the area north of Jackson.
There were severe storms running from western Tennessee into Illinois early Friday evening, but they are expected to dissipate, said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
The main tornado threat will continue overnight across Alabama and Georgia, and the same weather system will continue Saturday when it moves into the Carolinas, Thompson said.
“We have another beefed up severe weather threat in the Carolinas and southern Virginia,” Thompson said.
Tornadoes kill about 70 people in the United States each year.
Additional reporting by Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City; Leigh Coleman in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Peggy Gargis in Birmingham, Alabama; Writing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Johnson; Editing by Greg McCune