ST. JAMES, Mo. - Severe thunderstorms spawned tornadoes, large hail and lightning in parts of the Midwest on Friday, killing a boater trying to get to shore. Two tornadoes swept through south-central Missouri Friday afternoon, damaging more than 100 homes and tearing off part of a roof at a middle school moments after a tornado drill. No deaths had been reported.
A firefighter videotaped two twisters moving through St. James, said Phelps County emergency management director Bruce Southard. He estimated the tornadoes were on the ground for 10 minutes.
"It's devastating," he said. "We've got nice houses that are just tore to pieces."
In northwest Arkansas, Deborah Massey, 51, died when her boat was struck by lightning as she and Preston Starritt, 36, both of Prairie Grove, were on Bob Kidd Lake, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said. Starritt was injured and treated at a hospital.
Several tornadoes were reported in the region, where power was knocked out, trees broken and at least one home damaged.
"I've seen storms come through, but nothing that's taken down poles like this," Springdale police Sgt. Billy Turnbough said flagpoles bent sideways.
In Missouri, 12-year-old Devin Wilburn said students at St. James Middle School had just completed a tornado drill. Thirty seconds later, they interrupted their science test to rush back into the hallway for the real thing. The children knelt down and put their hands over their heads, he said.
"I just heard a bunch of thunder and ripping, because the top of the roof came off," Devin said.
No teachers, children or staff members were injured.
Preliminary information indicates a tornado warning was issued about 30 minutes before the storm hit, said Gino Izzi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield.
A tornado also destroyed about half of the Manchester Packaging Co. plant, which makes polyethylene film and bags, according to its Web site. Southard said the twister ripped 70-foot-by-70-foot holes in the main building of a Wal-Mart distribution center and another Wal-Mart building used to service trucks.
Devin's father, Chuck Wilburn, was sleeping when he was awakened by a "roaring wind noise." Wilburn, 42, said he ran to let the dogs in from outside.
"I opened the door and saw the barbecue grill flying across the yard," Wilburn said, whose house lost a window and some siding.
Southard estimated between 100 and 125 homes were damaged. He said most the damage was to roofs but some porches also collapsed.
The storm also ripped down trees, blocking traffic and leaving about half the city of about 6,000 people without power. St. James is 86 miles southwest of St. Louis.
Authorities also reported that two other small tornadoes downed trees and took off shingles in rural parts of southeast Missouri. Tornadoes and hail were also reported in northern Arkansas.
In Illinois, high winds destroyed three mobile homes and a log home in Massac County, and about a dozen homes were damaged in Jackson County, said Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
About 15,000 Commonwealth Edison customers in the Chicago area were without electricity after a storm downed trees, the utility said.
In western Kentucky, state police dispatcher Shari Clapp said weather spotters in Livingston County had reported three unconfirmed sightings of tornadoes near the Ohio River.
Some highways in Livingston and Henderson counties closed because of fallen trees and flash flooding, authorities said.