ST. LOUIS — Strong storms running the gamut from 100 mph wind gusts to ice and snow affected much of the Midwest, damaging homes, shutting down roads and leaving tens of thousands without power.
Missouri was hit especially hard by high winds Wednesday night, and officials with the National Weather Service were still trying to determine if tornadoes were to blame. Several homes in St. Louis and surrounding communities were damaged and more than 20,000 residents were without power midday Thursday.
Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency shortly after the storm swept through.
In the upper Midwest, thousands of homes and businesses also lost power because of heavy wet snow, ice and wind, while rain and snow raised flooding concerns in various areas of the Midwest. A suspected tornado caused damage in Arkansas.
Despite widespread damage and inconveniences, there were no immediate reports of deaths.
In Sullivan, Mo., a 7,000-resident town about 65 miles southwest of St. Louis, seven members of the municipal airport board were gathered at the airport Wednesday night for a meeting when a member noticed what looked like funnel clouds. A wind-blown pickup truck then scooted by — without a driver.
"The city administrator said his ears were popping, then all of a sudden the building shook and the windows shook," board member Larry Cuneio said. "I'm the street commissioner and I've seen wind do a lot of things, but never anything like this."
The gust was clocked at 101 mph. Nearby, a Baptist church's roof was torn off just as the choir was finishing practice. Choir members took refuge in the basement; no one was hurt.
Across the Mississippi River in Alton, Ill., Dave Grounds was watching TV when he heard the rain suddenly intensify, followed by winds that he said had "incredible resonance."
"That's when the house started shaking violently, like it was grabbed by both sides," said Grounds, a judge for Madison County's juvenile court. "I thought it was an earthquake, and that's when things started collapsing."
Two large trees — one oak and the other ash, each a century old — toppled onto one end of his house of 43 years, caving in his bedroom and crushing two of his vehicles.
"Electricity lines came down and started sparking like it was the Fourth of July, and the whole house filled with smoke," said Grounds, 64.
In the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, street signs were strewn across rain-drenched streets. Mayor Matthew Robinson said about two dozen homes were damaged, but that emergency workers checked all of them and no serious injuries had been reported.
At least eight homes were damaged in the St. Louis neighborhood known as the Hill, famous for its Italian heritage and restaurants. Mobile homes were blown over in parts of Franklin and Washington counties, not far from St. Louis.
National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Fuchs said many parts of eastern Missouri reported hail, up to 2 1/2 inches of rain and strong winds. The storm, he said, was the result of a clash of warm and cold air, typical for spring.
Other states were affected, too. A tornado reportedly touched down near Botkinburg in north-central Arkansas and injured four people, said John Robinson, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock.
About 50 school systems in central and north Alabama were sending students home early as the storm system moved into the state Thursday afternoon. A few government offices and businesses also closed early as severe weather threatened the area.
In South Dakota, snow and ice shut down several roads, including Interstate 90 for a time. Emergency crews were working Thursday to reach isolated tribal members near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to get help to those with medical needs, such as dialysis. Deadwood, S.D., was buried under 30 inches of snow that fell over a three-day period.
The weather service said the system could extend into flood-prone southeastern North Dakota, where about 3 to 5 inches of snow is expected through late Thursday.
"Any additional precipitation at this stage in the game is not necessarily a good thing," said Peter Rogers in Grand Forks.
In Wisconsin, storms with rain and ice caused about 30,000 outages. Most of the power was back on Thursday, but many schools remained closed.
Parts of Michigan got more than a foot of snow. Flood watches — the result of heavy rain and melting snow — were in effect through Friday for much of the central and southern Lower Peninsula.
Heavy rains overloaded a wastewater treatment plant in Saginaw County's Buena Vista Township, Mich., the Saginaw News reported, leading workers to release treated wastewater into the outfall that flows to the Saginaw River.
In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton said the weather was taxing the resources of local and county governments, and he issued an executive order activating the National Guard.
Associated Press writers Blake Nicholson in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee; David Runk in Detroit; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this report.
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