World

4 dead after storms, tornado hit southern U.S. leaving thousands without power

Four people were killed in the southern United States as a late-night series of storms caused chaos in several states, and a tornado tore homes and businesses apart in a densely populated area of Dallas, where only minor injuries were reported.

Businesses, homes damaged in Dallas area; people killed in Arkansas and Oklahoma

Women stand outside a house damaged by a tornado in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas on Monday. No one was killed there, but some suffered minor injuries. (LM Otero/The Associated Press)

Four people were killed in the southern United States as a late-night series of storms caused chaos in several states, and a tornado tore homes and businesses apart in a densely populated area of Dallas, where only minor injuries were reported.

In northwest Arkansas, one person died when a tree fell on a home in Rogers, about 240 kilometres northwest of Little Rock, according to the Benton County Department of Public Safety. Power was out at the nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, which said 17 flights were cancelled and about a dozen were delayed Monday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson confirmed the fatality, saying "significant storm damage" occurred in northwest Arkansas.

Damage was also reported in the northeast corner of Arkansas in the town of Tyronza, where five people were reported injured, Jonesboro TV station KAIT reported.

Meanwhile, authorities said severe thunderstorms were responsible for the deaths of three people in eastern Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Brooke Arbeitman said two teenage boys died of carbon monoxide poisoning late Sunday in Weleetka, about 130 kilometres east of Oklahoma City. She said the 14- and 15-year-old boys were using a portable gas generator in a travel trailer after the storms knocked out power in the area. The father of the younger boy discovered their bodies Monday morning.

Another person died late Sunday night when a tree was blown onto a mobile home near Valliant, about 275 kilometres southeast of Oklahoma City, emergency management officials said.

The National Weather Service said the tornado touched down in Dallas on Sunday night, causing structural damage and knocking out electricity to tens of thousands of people. (AthenaRising/The Associated Press)

The weather system also knocked down trees and power lines, broke windows and caused other minor damage at Memphis International Airport in Tennessee. No injuries were reported but some flights were delayed. A few businesses in east Memphis suffered minor damage.

In Texas, radar confirmed a tornado struck near Dallas Love Field Airport around 9 p.m. local time Sunday, said National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Jason Godwin.

There were no reports of fatalities or serious injuries in the state on Monday, but Fire-Rescue spokesperson Jason Evans said three people were hospitalized for non-life-threatening injuries.

Dallas Love Field spokesperson Chris Perry said the airport was not damaged in the storm.

But heavy damage was reported in northwest Dallas and Richardson. About 55,000 customers were without power in Dallas and another 40,000 in the surrounding area, and it could take days to restore service, according to Connie Piloto, a spokesperson for utility Oncor.

Tornado warnings were in effect Monday morning in far eastern Arkansas near the Mississippi River as the storm system moved to the east. The Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Okla., said Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee could see severe thunderstorms later Monday.

Seven people escaped a structure that collapsed in northwest Dallas, but Dallas rescue crews were searching to see if anyone was left inside, Evans said. WFAA-TV reported that a convenience store collapsed in the storm, but the clerk told the station that everyone who was inside made it out safely.

Evans, with the Fire-Rescue, said the department had also received multiple calls from people injured in their homes by broken glass.

On Twitter, Dallas Fire-Rescue said one of its own stations sustained significant damage during the storms overnight, and included photos that appeared to show a collapsed roof and debris. Evans said none of the firefighters at Station 41 were hurt, but said the roof was torn off by the high winds.

Dallas Stars player Tyler Seguin said his home was heavily damaged by severe storms that swept through Dallas, but no one was hurt.

The hockey player said on Twitter that he had moved to another home, and the property damaged late Sunday was listed for sale.

A radio station, KNON-FM, went off the air as the studio suffered major damage from the tornado. Lew Morris, one of the  station's hosts, said that the power at the station went out first, followed by the "distinctive whistle" of a tornado.

"We then heard the building shaking and could hear the glass windows shattering everywhere along with debris banging around. We waited until all the noise died down," Morris said. "We walked out to see the studio he was just broadcasting from destroyed."

Damage to the Dallas-based radio station KNON-FM radio station studio is seen after the tornado. (Lew Morris/The Associated Press)

Godwin, with the NWS, said the size and severity of the tornado won't be known until crews arrive to survey the damage. NWS warning co-ordination meteorologist Jennifer Dunn said there may have been two or more tornadoes in north Texas, but reiterated that the extent wouldn't be known until later Monday afternoon.

October tornadoes are not common, and cities are rarely hit, according to tornado scientist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla.

A study by Brooks last year found that only one-third of the most violent tornadoes hit communities of more than 5,000 people. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex has been hit at least three times in the last 25 years, he said.