ST. LOUIS (AP) — A spring-like storm system that killed at least three people as it spawned tornadoes and destroyed more than 100 homes in the central U.S. rumbled eastward Wednesday, putting about 95 million people in its path, forecasters said.
The compact but strong storms, known as supercells, moved into the region on Tuesday and have raked parts of Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Meanwhile, wind-whipped wildfires destroyed homes in Texas.
Forecasters with the Storm Prediction Center said the storm system appeared headed toward the mid-Atlantic states and southern New England, and that New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. could be affected.
The storm system killed at least two people in Illinois and one in Missouri. In Arkansas, emergency managers said 10 to 15 people were injured in White County, about 45 miles northeast of Little Rock, and minor injuries were reported at a prison in the northeastern part of the state.
In Illinois, state Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson said a person was killed by a tree that was uprooted by a tornado in Ottawa, about 70 miles southwest of Chicago. Minor injuries were also reported at a nursing home there. Thompson said it wasn’t known how many people were hurt by the storm, but that it was relatively few.
“We had some damage reported in several counties, both in the north-central part of the state as well as the southern part of the state,” Thompson said.
About 225 miles south of Ottawa, near Crossville, Illinois, an apparent tornado struck a building near a house, killing a 71-year-old man and injuring his wife, White County Coroner Chris Marsh said.
Another person was killed when a tornado blew his vehicle off a highway near Perryville, Missouri, which is about 65 miles southeast of St. Louis. Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Justin Wheatley said crews have determined that nearly 110 homes in Perry County were destroyed in the storm. About 20 people in the county suffered minor injuries.
Hundreds of people, including many schoolchildren, took shelter at Bald Knob High School in Arkansas after a tornado warning was posted for the area. Emergency managers said Wednesday that the storm damaged 40 homes in the county.
The Bald Knob storm was part of the same system that produced a wall cloud near Mayflower, Arkansas, which was hit in 2014 by a tornado with winds approaching 200 mph. The storm crossed Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Conway, but there were no reports that a funnel cloud touched down.
Tornadoes may have touched down Wednesday in and near Nashville, Tennessee. Weather service meteorologist Sam Herron said there had been numerous reports of scattered damage across the central part of the state and reports of a possible tornado near the Cool Springs mall south of Nashville. The city’s Emergency Operations Center tweeted that damage to power lines and trees indicated that another tornado may have touched down in the city.
The Storm Prediction Center had warned that some of Tuesday’s storms would track over long distances. The Arkansas storm held together for more than 100 miles, though it didn’t produce tornadoes along its entire path. Forecasters said there were more than 500 reports of tornadoes, damaging winds and hail from Arkansas into the Ohio Valley.
Strong winds elsewhere in the Plains spread wildfires in Texas. Four homes were destroyed near Tulia, about 50 miles south of Amarillo, before firefighters beat back the flames. Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Phillip Truitt said the fire prompted the evacuation of almost 1,200 homes.
Kelly Kissel reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writers Herb McCann in Chicago, Tafi Mukunyadzi and Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Jim Salter in St. Louis and David Runk in Detroit contributed to this report.