UPDATE: Storms leave 3 dead in NW Ark, 3 in Mo.

More severe weather predicted

Posted: December 31, 2010 at 7:37 a.m.
Updated: December 31, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

Storms swept through Northwest Arkansas Friday, leaving three dead.

— An elderly couple and dairy farmer in the tiny community of Cincinnati were killed Friday morning as a powerful line of storms thundered into Northwest Arkansas, knocking out power and temporarily closing the regional airport. The system left eight people injured and caused damage across four counties.

Map of Cincinnati, Ark.

The same system swept through southern and central Missouri, killing three people, and Illinois, injuring dozens more and causing extensive damage, authorities said.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said storms later Friday could do more damage from northern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico as communities prepare to mark the start of the new year. Forecasters posted tornado watches for the region that were set to run until 8 p.m.

Cincinnati residents awoke to the sound of storm sirens as the National Weather Service reported a possible tornado touchdown in the area as unseasonably warm temperatures met with a storm front from the west.

The deaths occurred at a home and barn on the south side of the hamlet, which is about 20 miles west of Fayetteville near the Oklahoma state line. Gerald "Buck" Wilson, 88, and Mamie WIlson, 78, died in their house, while Dick Murray, 78, was killed as he was milking cows in a barn, according to Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder.

Another person was pulled from the rubble near the Wilson's home and transported to an area hospital.

In south-central Missouri, 21-year-old Megan Ross and her 64-year-old grandmother Loretta Anderson died at a Lecoma farm where their family lived among three mobile homes and two frame houses, Dent County Emergency Management Coordinator Brad Nash said.

Another woman was killed north of Rolla, not far from Lecoma, when a tornado destroyed her home, according to emergency managers in Phelps County.

Phelps County Emergency Management Director Sandy North identified that county’s victim as Alice Cox, 69, who was from Belle, Mo., and was in the Rolla area visiting a friend.

Dispatcher Josh Howerton says the storm caused damage along State Highway 59 in downtown Cincinnati and through most of the western portion of Washington County early Friday. The town's volunteer fire station was demolished. Debris, including a Cincinnati sign, was found as far away as Bentonville.

AT A GLANCE

• Power outage map

• At least 6 dead in 2 states

• Multiple injuries and damage reported

• Red Cross setting up center at Methodist church in Cincinnati

Power failures were reported throughout Washington County. Officials in Benton County say they’ve received reports of two minor injuries and damage to five homes.

Damages have been reported in Madison County, where trees are down around the small town of Clifty.

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department says several highways in the area have been closed because of downed trees and debris in the roadway.

Only piles of debris mark where buildings were in Cincinnati: Nothing is recognizable.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder interviewed at the scene of the storm damage in Cincinnati Ark.

Video

Storm damage in Cincinnati, Ark.

"It all happened so fast," shaken resident Sharon Gier said two hours after the storm. She lives in a concrete house roughly 50 yards due west of the fire station. She and her husband were home with their grandchildren when the storm struck.

Resident Randall Sisemore's home still stands, but his brother's home is gone. Chris Sisemore wasn't injured, and his 14-year-old son was not home. One of his four dogs is missing.

A group of people stood atop and around the rubble of his home, trying to salvage whatever the can find. A chainsaw cut into the jumble, trying to open the way to the things buried below.

"I've never heard one, but I know what one sounds like now." Randall said of a tornado. His brother, Chris, is "a little shaken up." Randall said that his brother's son was not home at the time. One of his four dogs is missing.

The tornado hit Cincinnati sometime between 6 a.m. and 6:10 a.m., said Joe Sellers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Tulsa.

Rick Johnson, the deputy emergency manager for Washington County, says the same storm system caused damage in nearby Tontitown. Johnson says initial emergency responders are having trouble reaching the damaged areas because of downed power lines.

In Benton County, two injuries have been reported, according to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. Five homes were damaged, and the XNA airport at Highfill was shut down until 10 a.m. because of debris on the runway.

The line of storms passed through Oklahoma early Friday and rapidly moved into Northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri.

A before and after of an area damaged by storms Friday, Dec. 31, 2010.

Later Friday morning, in south-central Missouri, baseball-sized hail was reported north of Mansfield in Wright County.

Sellers said the combination of warm, moist air in place over the region — temperatures peaked in the 70s on Thursday — with colder air moving in from the west is a perfect brew for severe storms.

“Anytime you have a significant change in air mass there is going to be unsettled weather marking the two different air masses,” Sellers said.

Tornado watches have been issued for a huge swath of the state, with most not expiring until well into the afternoon.

A storm front was moving into central Arkansas from the southwest with the potential of heavy rain and wind.

The building housing the volunteer fire department in Cincinnati, Ark. was destroyed during Friday's tornado.

According to records from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., Friday’s tornado fatalities are the first in the nation since Sept. 16, when a woman hit a falling tree while driving in Queens, N.Y., and a man was killed in his home at Belleville, W.Va.

The deaths push this year’s count to 40 nationally, and to 5 in Arkansas. The death in Missouri was its first of the year.

DAMAGE REPORTS:

Winwood Ranch Road in Siloam Springs has damage to two homes, two barns, two chicken houses and one mobile home along with the two horses killed, Matt Garrity, Benton County DEM manager said.

Two homes, two chicken houses and one shop building along State Highway 244 and one home and two out buildings on Robinson Road have also been destroyed, Garrity said.

Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport closed at 6:49 a.m. because of debris on the runway and ramps.

“We did not have any damage to our airport but damage to other people’s property ended up on the runway out here,” said Kelly Johnson, airport manager.

The airport reopened at 10 a.m. but still has some taxi lanes and ramps closed because of debris. Johnson said it will take several more hours to clear all of the debris.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Thank you for coming to the Web site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We're working to keep you informed with the latest breaking news.

Information for this article was contributed by Melissa Gute and Jeff Della Rosa of the Siloam Springs Herald-Leader and The Associated Press.