At least 44 people are dead and dozens injured after a series of tornadoes and storms ripped through the central United States on Tuesday, as millions voted in Super Tuesday presidential primaries.


The wall of a Sears store collapsed at the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis after a storm on Tuesday. ((Nikki Boertman/Commercial Appeal/Associated Press))

The tornadoes tore through Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, with at least six twisters striking a 160-kilometre stretch between the Mississippi city of Oxford and Jackson, Tenn., said Richard Okulski of the National Weather Service in Memphis.

The dead included 24 people in Tennessee, 13 in Arkansas and seven in Kentucky. The toll in Arkansas included a couple and their 11-year-old daughter who died when a tornado hit Atkins, a city of 3,000 in the centre of the state, the Pope County sheriff's office said.

The city had to transform one of its voting stations into a Red Cross shelter, as the storm damaged homes and overturned trucks on a nearby highway.

"It's been a wild night," said state emergency management spokesman Tommy Jackson. "A heck of a way to have elections in Arkansas."

'Our hearts go out to families,' Huckabee says

The state is home to Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who is running in the Republican presidential race. 

"While we hope tonight is a time for us to celebrate election results, we are reminded that nothing is as important as the lives of these fellow Arkansans, and our hearts go out to their families," Huckabee said.

In Jackson, Tenn., a storm tore through a dormitory at Union University, trapping eight students inside. They were not seriously injured, a school spokesman said. 


An overturned delivery truck blocks an entrance to the Union University campus in Jackson, Tenn., after a tornado severely damaged the campus on Tuesday. ((Amanda Herron/The Jackson Sun/Associated Press))

Others were trapped when a tornado destroyed a section of the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis, Tenn., while several people were washed into a nearby river after the bridge they were taking shelter on collapsed. Everyone survived, police said.

In northern Mississippi, twisters tore through buildings and ripped down power lines.

"It ripped the warehouses apart. The best way to describe it is it looks like a bomb went off," Desoto County Sheriff's Department Cmdr. Steve Atkinson said.

"A lot of fire departments are here and we're searching each warehouse to see if there was anybody in there. It's going to be a time-consuming thing and we'll probably be searching into the morning."

Ohio city braces for flood

Meanwhile, in Findlay, Ohio, businesses and residents were bracing for a possible flood, as the Blanchard River threatened to flood the city's downtown core.

Police planned to put cruisers at all city fire stations in case the floodwaters split the city in half, which is what happened when the river flooded in late August. 

Kentucky was bracing for hail, high winds and floods Tuesday night, while Wisconsin and Iowa were told to prepare for a large amount of snow.

The snow triggered a rash of traffic accidents. A woman was killed and four other people injured in southern Wisconsin when a tractor-trailer, two cars and a pickup collided, authorities said.

With files from the Associated Press