DAMASCUS, Ark. - Violent storms unleashed tornadoes, high winds and hail in four central states and killed eight people in Arkansas, including a teenager who died when a tree fell into her bedroom as she slept.
The storms late Thursday and early Friday ripped off roofs and toppled train cars near Kansas City, Mo.; pelted parts of Oklahoma with hail; and knocked over tents at a popular open-air market in east Texas. Severe thunderstorms were moving into Kentucky and could make for a wet Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Greg Carbin, a meteorologist for the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said as many as 25 tornadoes may have cut through stretches of Oklahoma, Arkansas, eastern Kansas and western Missouri.
Six of those killed were in two north-central Arkansas counties, Conway and Van Buren, that also saw fatalities from a devastating tornado Feb. 5. Gov. Mike Beebe declared those counties and five others disaster areas.
"This year it just seems like we're getting pounded," Van Buren County Sheriff Scott Bradley said.
He said a man, a woman and a preschool-age child died when the storm hit their house just south of Bee Branch.
"There wasn't anything left," Bradley said. "It was demolished."
Another child who lived at the home had already left for school, escaping injury.
A father and two sons died in Conway County when a possible tornado hit their mobile home. A twister demolished a chicken farm in Center Springs, leaving thousands of dead birds on the ground.
Near the Oklahoma line in a working-class neighborhood of Siloam Springs, a 15-year-old girl died in the early morning when apparent straight-line winds toppled a tree into her family's mobile home. She and her 10-year-old brother were sleeping in bunk beds; the boy survived with minor injuries.
"She was on (the top bunk). He was on bottom. When it fell it just crushed her and pinned her on top of him," with a mattress between them, said Chad Tilghman, who lives across the street and helped pull the boy from the storm debris.
The seventh death was reported in Pulaski County, south of Little Rock.
More than a dozen injuries were reported, and about 350 homes were damaged or destroyed in several Arkansas counties.
Around the Van Buren County town of Damascus, deputies, firefighters and volunteers were going farm-to-farm to check on everyone.
Just north of town the wind knocked the roof off a new church that has yet to hold its first service. Members of a work crew ran inside the Southside Baptist Church after a neighbor warned them of the coming storm; they later exchanged soaked clothes for white choir robes.
Nearly 6,000 homes and businesses lost power in Arkansas, and about 40,000 lost power at the peak of the storms in the Kansas City area, where two small tornadoes touched down and several minor injuries were reported.
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser said 100 homes suffered significant damage in the city alone. Damage was also reported in the suburbs and in Lawrence, to the west. An 18-wheeler was blown over on Interstate 29 in Riverside, near five empty train cars that were toppled.
In northeast Kansas City, dozens of homes had chunks of their roofs missing, and trees were knocked from their roots and lying along the roads and in ditches. Police blocked off roads around the damaged neighborhoods Friday.
A twister ripped the roof off 74-year-old Ann Johnson's duplex in the suburb of Gladstone.
"The ceiling actually came down on top of her while she was in bed," said her daughter, Cindy Hopkins.
Johnson was able to roll out from under the collapsed debris but cut her foot on glass from a shattered window. A neighbor who heard her yells helped nurse the wound until paramedics arrived. Johnson, whose cut required seven stitches, remained at the hospital Friday afternoon.
"The fact that she is alive is the greatest gift," said Hopkins, of Richmond.
Tornadoes appeared to touch down in at least three east Texas towns, uprooting trees, flipping cars and yanking down power lines.
A tornado hit Canton, Texas, as visitors began to show up for a popular open-air market that draws thousands each month. The winds toppled tents and snapped power lines, but the market was soon back in business.
Three people in Canton were taken to hospitals; two had been at the market and had reported chest pains. City Secretary Julie Seymore said that no major injuries were reported and that overall damage was minimal.
At least three tornadoes raked central and northern Oklahoma, including one in Osage County near Tulsa that was an estimated 100 yards wide, but no serious injuries were reported there. A home was destroyed and about a dozen others were damaged in northeastern Oklahoma, and a hotel under construction near Tulsa was destroyed.
The storms moved into Kentucky and Tennessee on Friday evening, and other severe weather developed in Illinois, forcing the cancellation of more than 200 flights at Chicago's busy O'Hare International Airport.
A day before the Kentucky Derby, some race fans at Churchill Downs sought shelter Friday when the storms arrived in Louisville. The Weather Service issued a tornado warning for parts of far western Kentucky, and meteorologist John Gordon said two more waves of storms were expected Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Rain was possible until about 6 p.m. EDT Saturday, just as the race is scheduled to start, but Gordon said he didn't think it would be extreme enough to affect the race.
Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said the track was monitoring the weather but didn't anticipate heavy rain to interrupt racing.
"This track handles water as well as any track in the country," he said.