A tornado that slammed into southeastern Missouri early Wednesday caused at least four fatalities and an unknown number of injuries, and prompted a feverish search for survivors in the wreckage, authorities said.
Tornadoes were reported in parts of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri late Tuesday and early Wednesday, and severe storms forced brief ground stops at major airports in Austin, Chicago and Detroit.
The Missouri Highway Patrol tweeted that they were assisting agencies in Bollinger County in search and recovery efforts near the village of Glen Allen , about 100 miles south of St. Louis.
“The damage is pretty widespread. It’s just heartbreaking to see it,” Sgt. Clark Parrott of the Missouri Highway Patrol said. Crews are having to use chainsaws to cut back trees and brush to reach homes, he said.
He added that the death toll might rise as crews sift through the rubble of damaged and destroyed homes.
Larry Welker, Bollinger County’s public administrator, said the twister traveled along route 34 into Glen Allen, a village of slightly more than 100 people. “I’m getting reports that it was pretty bad,” he said.
“There was several trailers there, and I understand that there is still people missing,” Welker said.
Weather service meteorologist Justin Gibbs said it appeared initially that a tornado was on the ground for 15 minutes, traveling an estimated 15-20 miles. He said the weather service will send a survey team to the area later Wednesday to assess the damage and determine the strength of the tornado.
Severe storms could also produce strong tornadoes and large hail across parts of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas on Wednesday, the weather service warned. Several large cities, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Memphis, Tennessee, were at risk from the storms.
More than 45 million Americans were under some form of tornado, severe thunderstorm or wind watches and advisories Wednesday.
The latest line of destructive weather comes less than a week after dozens of tornadoes roared through the Midwest and South, killing more than 30 people and damaging thousands of homes and businesses.
Farther north, blizzard conditions were sweeping across parts of the Upper Midwest; parts of the Dakotas were expecting up to 17 inches of snow. And wintry weather is also returning to New York and New England on Wednesday: Snow, freezing rain and sleet are possible in the region.
►The weather service in Missouri confirmed a tornado hit near Glenallen early Wednesday. State emergency management officials said damage was “extensive.”
►In Illinois, the weather service found evidence of an EF-2 tornado with maximum winds of 120 mph near Colona on Tuesday. A roof was torn off a gas station with a wall collapsed.
A ground stop had been in effect at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas due to morning storms, but planes were again flying as of late morning. According to FlightAware, delays continued to be reported at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports as of midday Wednesday.
“The atmosphere will be favorable for significant severe weather including tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds,” the National Weather Service office in Detroit tweeted.
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The fierce storms that started Friday and continued into the weekend spawned deadly tornadoes in 11 states as the system swept across much of the South, Midwest and Northeast. The same conditions that fueled those storms – an area of low pressure combined with strong southerly winds – se up the severe weather Tuesday into early Wednesday, said Ryan Bunker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Severe weather and tornado risks that spread across the Plains and Mississippi Valley on Tuesday are moving east, impacting a stretch from the Great Lakes region to parts of the Appalachians and beyond on Wednesday.
Dangerous winds and severe thunderstorms were possible in at least 10 states on Wednesday.
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Dozens of schools in South Dakota closed Tuesday because of blizzard conditions, and several school systems remained closed Wednesday. State executive branch offices were also closed in much of the state. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed off on $20 million Tuesday for emergency snow removal grants to localities.
The severe weather that rattled more than a dozen states on Tuesday was expected to move east on Wednesday. A band of the country from Louisiana to western New York could be at risk for severe thunderstorms on Wednesday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. The zone will likely include parts of the Ohio Valley to the Great Lakes region and parts of the Appalachians. The areas could be at risk for hail, isolated tornadoes and damaging wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph.
A blizzard warning remained in effect into Wednesday in states in the Plains and Midwest, and some areas were expecting over a foot of snow. Blizzard conditions were expected in North Dakota, and up to 17 inches of snow with winds gusting up to 55 mph were possible in some areas.
A blizzard warning is also in effect until Thursday morning in parts of Minnesota; snow accumulations of up to 16 inches and winds up to 45 mph were possible.
But even in states where blizzard conditions weren’t likely on Thursday, winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories stretched from Wyoming to Michigan. In northern Michigan, show and sleet accumulations of up to 2 inches were possible, while winds were expected to reach up to 40 mph.
Snow accumulations were expected to reach up to 2 inches, and freezing rain and sleet could make travel treacherous in the area.
Sleet accumulations could reach up to 1 inch in parts of Maine and New Hampshire, and winds could gust up to 35 mph.
Contributing: Francesca Block, Des Moines Register; Brian Manzullo, Detroit Free Press; The Associated Press