Severe storms injured seven people, damaged buildings and downed power lines in northwest Arkansas early Wednesday as tornadoes and hurricane-force winds were forecast in much of the Deep South, a week after a twister hit the New Orleans area.
No deaths were reported from the storms early Wednesday, which included a likely tornado about 4 a.m. in Springdale and the adjoining town of Johnson, about 145 miles (235 kilometers) northwest of Little Rock,
Damage was extensive in Springdale, including to an elementary school gymnasium and a warehouse, KFSM-TV reported. The Springdale School District, which is the largest in Arkansas, canceled all classes Wednesday.
“We have some commercial buildings and residences and everything in between … with severe storm damage,” Washington County, Arkansas, Emergency Management Director John Luther said.
He said seven people were injured, two critically, but he had no additional information.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Joe Sellers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, said investigators were going to the area to assess the damage. While the weather service hadn’t yet confirmed it was a tornado, “we’re pretty certain that’s what occurred,” Sellers said.
A tornado watch was issued for most of Arkansas, northern Louisiana, southern Missouri, southeastern Oklahoma, and northeast Texas through early Wednesday afternoon.
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said all of Mississippi and parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee were at the greatest risk for severe weather Wednesday. More than 8 million people live in that area, which includes the cities of Memphis, Tennessee; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Montgomery, Alabama.
In Mississippi, dozens of schools closed early or conducted classes online Wednesday as a precaution against having children in crowded buildings or on buses.
“Today’s weather may not impact some folks while others may experience one of the worst days of their life,” Stephen McCraney, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said in a briefing.
Officials in various Mississippi counties were opening safe locations for people worried about staying in their home during the storm. In Louisiana, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency advised people living in temporary housing such as trailers after Hurricane Ida to be on the alert and know where to go in case they need to evacuate.
The worst weather was expected in the afternoon. Last week, a tornado in a New Orleans-area neighborhood struck during the overnight hours and killed a man.