At least five people were killed in southeastern Missouri when astruck the area before dawn Wednesday morning, officials said. Mark Winkler, director of the Cape Girardeau County Office of Emergency Management, told CBS News the deaths occurred in Bollinger County, about 50 miles south of St. Louis.
The tornado moved through the rural area between 3:30 and 4 a.m., said Sgt. Clark Parrott of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. "The damage is pretty widespread. It's just heartbreaking to see it," he said.
Parrott said a search and rescue operation is underway that involves multiple agencies. Crews are having to use chainsaws to cut back trees and brush to reach homes. Drone footage showed emergency crews peering into the wreckage with flashlights.
The highway patrol posted an aerial photo of the damage that showed uprooted trees and homes that had been reduced to rubble.
The twister caused significant destruction in and around the small rural communities of Glen Allen and Grassy, Bollinger County Sheriff Casey A. Graham said in a Facebook post. A hunting area separates the two communities.
Charles Collier, 61, said he saw a coroner's van drive by with its lights on in Glen Allen, a village of slightly more than 100 people where he owns a storage facility.
"That was a sad, sad sight — knowing there was bodies in there," said Collier, who wasn't entirely relieved when he saw his facility was spared. "I was just numb, thinking about all these other people, what they're going through."
Josh Wells said that the tornado tore half of the roof off his Glen Allen home and pushed in his bedroom wall. Luckily, he fled beforehand with his son to his sister's home because it has a basement.
"We all ran down and huddled against the wall and my brother-in-law made it down just seconds before we heard the roaring sound of the wind and debris crashing around us," he said.
While his sister's home held up, the area reeked of gas because a propane unit was damaged.
A preliminary survey of the damage by the National Weather Service concluded the tornado had estimated peak winds of 130 mph and a maximum width of 150 yards. The twister's path was 22.3 miles long, NWS said.
NWS noted that "several" manufactured homes had been totally destroyed.
Before the preliminary survey, Justin Gibbs, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Paducah, Kentucky said it was clear, "It was a significant tornado."
He noted that tornadoes are especially dangerous when they touch down late at night or early in the morning, as this one did.
"It's definitely a nightmare from a warning standpoint," Gibbs said. "It's bad anytime, but it's especially bad at 3:30 in the morning."
Larry Welker, Bollinger County's public administrator, said the twister traveled along Route 34 into Glen Allen and that he hasn't been able to inspect the damage firsthand because law enforcement were restricting access to the area.
"I'm getting reports that it was pretty bad," he said. He described it as a rural area, where residents mostly farmed, cut timber or worked construction jobs.
"There was several trailers there, and I understand that there is still people missing," Welker said.
The storms moving through the Midwest and South on Wednesday threaten some areas still reeling from aof bad weather last weekend. The Storm Prediction Center said up to 40 million people in an area that includes Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Memphis, Tennessee, were at risk from the storms later Wednesday. As of late morning, the greatest threat appeared to be to an area stretching from lower Michigan into Tennessee and Kentucky.
Fierce storms that started last Friday and continued through the weekend spawned deadly tornadoes in 11 states as the system plodded through Arkansas and into the South, Midwest and Northeast.
Schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, canceled Wednesday classes because the storms were expected to move through the area during the morning rush, CBS affiliate KFVS-TV reported.
At leastwere confirmed Tuesday in Illinois as storms targeted the state and eastern Iowa and southwest Wisconsin before nightfall.
In central Illinois, authorities said five people were hurt and about 300 homes were without power due to a tornado that struck in Fulton County on Tuesday evening. Chris Helle, who directs the county's Emergency Services Disaster Agency, said one of the people injured was in critical condition.
Helle said the damage was concentrated near the town of Bryant, about 200 miles southwest of Chicago. Fire departments and other first responders were still cataloging the damage there, but Helle said numerous homes had been destroyed. He credited people for listening to advance warnings and taking shelter.
Officials said another tornado touched down Tuesday morning in the western Illinois community of Colona. Local news reports showed wind damage to some businesses there.
Winds of up to 90 mph and baseball-sized hail also caused damage in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois.
The National Weather Service also received reports of semitrailers that had been tipped over by winds in Lee County, about 95 miles west of Chicago.
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