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Multiple deaths reported as tornadoes, severe floods hit South, Midwest

Severe weather

CANTON, Texas -- At least 15 people have been killed by tornadoes or flooding in the South and Midwest by a storm that also dumped a rare late-season blizzard in western Kansas on Sunday. 

Tornadoes hit several small towns in East Texas, killing four people. Five people were killed by flooding and winds in Arkansas, including a fire chief who was struck by a vehicle while working during the storm. Three deaths were reported in Missouri, including a woman who drowned after rushing water swept away a car. One of two deaths in Mississippi included a 7-year-old who died by electric shock and a 2-year-old girl died in Tennessee after being struck by a soccer goal post thrown by heavy winds.

Flooding closed part of Interstate 44 near Hazelgreen, Missouri, and officials expected it would be at least a day before the highway reopened. Interstate 70 in western Kansas was closed because crews were waiting for snow falling at 3 to 4 inches an hour being blown by 35 mph winds to subside.

An Arkansas volunteer fire department chief was killed while working during storms in north-central Arkansas, state police said.

Cove Creek/Pearson Fire Chief Doug Decker died shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday after being struck by a vehicle while checking water levels on Highway 25 near Quitman, about 40 miles north of Little Rock, Trooper Liz Chapman said. It wasn't known if he will be included as a storm-related death, she said.

A 2-year-old girl in Tennessee died after being struck by a heavy, metal soccer goal post that was blown over by high winds, The Metro Nashville Police Department posted on its Twitter page on Sunday evening.

Melanie Espinoza Rodriguez was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead, according to a second post from the department.

Middle Tennessee was hit by a strong line of storms that knocked down trees and power lines earlier Sunday.

Rescuers in northwest Arkansas continued Sunday to look for an 18-month-old girl and a 4-year-old boy who were in a vehicle swept off a bridge by floodwaters in Hindsville, the Madison County Sheriff's Office said.

Where will severe weather go next?

Among those who died was a 65-year-old woman in Arkansas who was killed when a tree was blown into her home Saturday. In Missouri, where two people died, a 72-year-old woman drowned despite her husband's efforts to save her as their vehicle was swept away by rushing waters after heavy rains caused flooding.

In northwest Arkansas, a 10-year-old girl drowned in Springdale and the body of a woman who disappeared riding an inner tube Saturday was found in a creek in Eureka Springs. Also, a 65-year-old woman in DeWitt in the eastern part of the state was struck and killed in her home by a falling tree, officials said.

The storms headed east on Sunday into Mississippi, where one person died, and into Alabama.

The governors of Missouri and Oklahoma declared states of emergency. In eastern Oklahoma, thunderstorms topped trees and power lines, while more than 4 inches of snow fell elsewhere in the state.

In Texas, search teams were going door to door Sunday, a day after storms cut a path of destruction 35 miles long and 15 miles wide in Van Zandt County, Canton Mayor Lou Ann Everett said. The largely rural area is about 50 miles east of Dallas.

Authorities said a total of four people died in Van Zandt County, CBS Dallas / Fort Worth reports. The station previously reported that five people had died.

"It is heartbreaking and upsetting to say the least," Everett told reporters at a news conference Sunday morning.

Video from local television stations showed uprooted trees and overturned cars along rural, wet roadways, along with flattened homes. The storms flipped pickup trucks at a Dodge dealership in Canton and tore through the business.

Fifty-six people were treated at three hospitals and six remained hospitalized Sunday morning, two of them in critical condition, ETMC Regional Health Care Systems spokeswoman Rebecca Berkley said.

Officials urged people to stay away from the area. Rescue workers were dealing with gas leaks and downed power lines and trees, said Judge Don Kirkpatrick, the county's chief executive. Fences also had been blown over, meaning livestock in the farming and ranching area were roaming free.

"It's a very dangerous situation out there," Kirkpatrick said.

The National Weather Service confirmed at least three tornadoes swept through parts of three counties, with two of the twisters tracking nearly the entire south-to-north length of Van Zandt County.

The first reports of tornadoes came about 4:45 p.m. Saturday, but emergency crews were hampered by continuing severe weather, Kirkpatrick said.

"We'd be out there working and get a report of another tornado on the ground," he said.

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A man walks by the toppled iconic structural arch that welcomed visitors to the annual Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City, on Sat., April 29, 2017. AP

One resident, Ernestine Cook, told Dallas television station WFAA she rushed to a storm center just in time.

"It hit so hard, so fast. It just kept moving," she said. "I've never seen anything like it after 22 years of living here."

Oncor, the electric utility that serves the area, reported more than 4,500 customers were without power late Sunday morning. Everett said about 30 crews from around Texas were arriving to restore electricity. Five major transmission towers were toppled and some were difficult to reach. Cellphone service was described as "spotty."

Canton is known throughout Texas and neighboring states for its First Monday Trading Days, a monthly flea market that draws thousands of people and goes back 150 years. Everett said the grounds of the market were spared from serious damage, although power lines and trees were down.

In Missouri and Arkansas, some roads remained closed Sunday because of flooding. Missouri reported nearly 100 evacuations and nearly three dozen rescues by late Saturday. In southern parts of the state, there were extensive road closures, as well as numerous evacuations and rescues, CBS affiliate KCTV reported. In Arkansas, utilities said tens of thousands of customers were without power.

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The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas, on Sun., April 30, 2017. Reuters

Alexa Haik went to bed Saturday night expecting just rain, but heard the sirens Sunday morning and turned on the television to see the tornado warning. She rounded up her pets and hid in a hallway with her family, then was stunned to emerge to trees down all in her neighborhood in Clinton, Mississippi, about 20 miles (32 km) west of Jackson.

A trip up the road showed how isolated the worst of the storms were. "I really thought when we got out of our neighborhood, there would be damage everywhere. But our little subdivision was the only one hit," Haik said.

Near Clever in southwestern Missouri, a man tried to save his 72-year-old wife from floodwaters that swept away their vehicle Saturday, but her body was found when the water receded, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.

A second death from weekend flooding was announced Sunday by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens but he did not release any details about the victim or the circumstances of the death.

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