ATKINS, Ark. Tornadoes tore across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi on Tuesday in a rare midwinter outbreak of violent weather that killed at least 11 people and injured dozens.
A couple and their 11-year-old daughter were killed in their home after a tornado touched down near the center of Atkins, a community of 3,000 along the Arkansas River in the central part of the state, the Pope County Sheriff's Office said.
Authorities in Tennessee said storms killed at least four people there. The office of Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said seven people were killed in tornadoes across the state, including Conway County and the communities of Clinton and Gassville.
"This was an extraordinary night," Beebe said. "When it's compounded by darkness, that makes it that much more difficult."
At the W.J. Matthews Civic Center in Atkins, a shelter was empty except for a American Red Cross volunteers and a single touchscreen voting machine. The civic center had hosted an election precinct earlier Tuesday.
The power was knocked out briefly at a Little Rock convention hall that hosted an watch party for GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor.
"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.
Cell phone pictures sent to television stations showed a dark, broad funnel approaching Atkins. Traffic was snarled on nearby Interstate 40, with tractor-trailers on their sides.
At least six tornadoes touched down between Oxford, Miss., and Jackson, Tenn., said Richard Okulski of the National Weather Service in Memphis. More than 30 people were injured in the two states, hospital officials said.
In Oxford, 11 people ranging in age from infants to senior citizens were taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital with injuries caused by a tornado, Peyton Warrington, the hospital's assistant administrator. They were stable, she said.
One storm tore a large part of the north wall off Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis. Steve Cole of the Memphis Police Department said a few people north of the mall took shelter under a bridge and were washed away, but were pulled out of the Wolf River with only scrapes.
Later, the same system damaged a dormitory at Union University in Jackson, where a 2003 tornado killed 11 people and one in 1999 killed nine. Eight students were trapped Tuesday but weren't seriously injured, school spokesman Tim Ellsworth said.
In Arkansas, the Baxter County Sheriff's Office said debris, including parts of houses, blocked U.S. Highway 62. The town of Gassville was sealed off because of the possibility of gas leaks resulting in an explosion, and injury reports could not be confirmed because phone lines were down.
The three dead at Atkins were family members who died after their home took a direct hit, Pope County Coroner Leonard Krout said.
"Neighbors and friends who were there said, 'There used to be a home there,"' Krout said.
Two people died in Hardin County, Tenn., as a tornado hit; one died in Fayette County and one in Memphis when the roof collapsed at a warehouse, authorities said.
At least 13 people in Memphis were taken to a hospital, and two were critical, said Lt. Keith Staples of the Memphis Fire Department.
A tornado shredded warehouses in an industrial park in Southaven, in northern Mississippi, said Desoto County Sheriff's Department Cmdr. Steve Atkinson.
"It ripped the warehouses apart. The best way to describe it is it looks like a bomb went off," 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."
The tornadoes were part of a huge storm that swept across much of the nation's midsection on Tuesday, dropping snow on its northern edge, thunderstorms elsewhere and threatening flooding in areas of the Midwest still recovering from a disastrously wet summer.
In Findlay, Ohio, officials warned business owners they should be ready to move if the Blanchard River spilled over into downtown Wednesday. The river, rising about 5 inches an hour Tuesday, was predicted to rise to about 3 feet above flood stage by Wednesday afternoon.
"One thing in our favor is that a lot of the people who were flooded in August have not returned," said Jim Barker, safety director in this city of about 40,000.
In southwestern Wisconsin, snow was expected to total more than a foot and a half in some southern parts of the state before ending Wednesday afternoon. Iowa braced for as much as 10 inches of snow in some areas.