U.S. storms kills 21, tornado roars through Mississippi city

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U.S. storms kills 21, tornado roars through Mississippi city
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014, and talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority, right. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Framed by a damaged car, President Barack Obama speaks after touring tornado-damaged neighborhood of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014 and walks with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., left. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014, and talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority, right. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama greets people while touring tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama greets people while touring tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority, right, wait to speak with President Barack Obama as tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority, center, while touring tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., watches at far left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014 and walks with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., left. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama greets people while touring tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama prepares to make a statement after he toured tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014 and talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority, right. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas of Vilonia, Ark., Wednesday, May 7, 2014 and greets residents of the area. Obama is visiting with first responders and families affected by the recent tornados before traveling on to California where he will raise money for the Democratic Party and receive an award from a foundation created by movie director Steven Spielberg. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Jeff Rogers talks on the phone while surveying damage around his home on Joyner Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
An American flag rests on a pillar as damaged buildings are seen in the background on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
Matt Bogue works to salvage items from a Shell gas station on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
John Buchanan carries items from his destroyed business on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
Stacy Sanders carries materials from his destroyed business on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
A police officer directs traffic in front of damaged homes on Clayton Avenue in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
Kevin Barnes searches the remains of his home on Clayton Avenue in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
A resident searches the remains of his home on Clayton Avenue in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
A basketball stand remains standing behind a home in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
Brent Martin walks along Kincannon Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Martin was surveying damage done by a tornado to other homes in his neighborhood. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
A destroyed home is scattered along with debris and fallen trees in a residential section of Tupelo, Miss, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
A United States Postal Service carrier vehicle lies in a ravine after being blown off Legion Road in Tupelo, Miss, after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
A damaged home is seen on Kincannon Street in Tupelo, Miss., Tuesday, April 29, 2014. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
The rubble of an American Legion post in Tupelo, Miss., is seen Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado hit the area. Tornadoes flattened homes and businesses, flipped trucks over on highways and bent telephone poles into 45-degree angles as they barreled through Alabama and Mississippi on Monday. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
A motel, left, and a restaurant both show damage sustained from a tornado in Tupelo, Miss, on Monday, April 28, 2014. Tornadoes flattened homes and businesses, flipped trucks over on highways and bent telephone poles into 45-degree angles as they barreled through Alabama and Mississippi on Monday. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
A semi tractor sits on top of the sign of the Sleep Inn located on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss, after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014.(AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
What remains of the Steak Escape restaurant that sits in front of the Sleep Inn on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss, after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
A demolished car sits on North Gloster Street across from what remains of a shell gas station in Tupelo, Miss, after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014. At least three tornados flattened homes and businesses, flipped trucks over on highways and injured an unknown number of people in Mississippi and Alabama on Monday as a massive, dangerous storm system passed over several states in the South, threatening additional twisters as well as severe thunderstorms, damaging hail and flash floods. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Esmeralda, left and Craig Stanford help a friend clean up his North Gloster Street Texaco gas station and quick stop in Tupelo, Miss, after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Elquin Gonzalez, owner of the Texaco gas station and quick stop on North Gloster Street in Tupelo, Miss. begins cleaning up his business after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014. At least three tornados flattened homes and businesses, flipped trucks over on highways and injured an unknown number of people in Mississippi and Alabama on Monday as a massive, dangerous storm system passed over several states in the South, threatening additional twisters as well as severe thunderstorms, damaging hail and flash floods. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Terry Scheske, left and his wife Julia begin cleaning up their yard in Tupelo, Miss, after a tornado touched down on Monday, April 28, 2014.(AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Patrick Bland, 26, helps clear trees and limbs from a friend's yard in the heavily damaged Joyner neighborhood on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 in Tupelo. Miss. A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, forced frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark Tuesday morning. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
Seventeen year-old Deanna Locke and her siblings including, from left, Charlotte, 13; Drew, 9; and Trinity, 11; examine a downed tree across the street from their home in Tupelo, Miss., after a suspected tornado moved through town earlier on Monday, April 28, 2014.( AP Photo/Jim Lytle)
Workers with heavy machinery begin the cleanup process after a tornado devastated businesses on Monday, April 28, 2014, in Tupelo, Miss. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
A Steak Escape restaurant is damaged by a tornado on Monday, April 28, 2014, in Tupelo, Miss. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
A car with its windows smashed and top caved in sits in front of a gas station that was heavily damaged by a tornado on Monday, April 28, 2014, in Tupelo, Miss. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
An American flag stands limp in front of a gas station-convenience store that had its roof mangled by a tornado on Monday, April 28, 2014, in Tupelo, Miss. With parts of the U.S. recovering from deadly tornadoes, more heavy storms are making their way across the South. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
Convenience store owner Francis Gonzalez (holding child) and her three children stand in front of their heavily damaged business on Monday, April 28, 2014, in Tupelo, Miss. Gonzalez and her kids ran into a cooler in the back of a convenience store, which also houses a Mexican restaurant, as a tornado approached. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz).
Mississippi Department of Transportation road crews work to clear downed trees and power lines from streets in Tupelo Miss. after a line of sever weather moved through the area Thursday, May 8, 2008. A number of northeast Mississippi counties and portions of northwest Alabama were under tornado watches or warnings until midafternoon Thursday. (AP Photo/Ryan Moore)
Map locates places heaviest hit by tornadoes in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.
Sherry Lee holds a garnet necklace that was found in what was left in her home on Cemetery Street on Monday, April 28, 2014 after tornado struck her hometown of Vilonia, Ark., on Sunday evening. Lee said her mother gave the necklace to her great-grandaughter and it was hanging in her bedroom closet. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said.. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Scott Berrier surveys the damage to his home off Naylor Road on Monday, April 28, 2014 after a tornado struck the town of Vilonia, Ark., on Sunday evening. Berrier said his home was damaged in the 2011 tornado but it was destroyed with this tornado. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Sherry Lee, left, and her daughter-in-law Amanda Lee react after finding family photos among the ruins of Sherry Lee's home on Cemetery Street on Monday, April 28, 2014 after a tornado struck the town of Vilonia, Ark., on Sunday evening. Amanda Lee lost her brother Jeff Hunter in the storm. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
John Smith reacts after seeing what's left of his auto repair shop in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. Mayflower was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Sherry Lee hugs her brother-in-law Andy Lee on Monday, April 28, 2013 after a tornado destroyed her home Sunday on Cemetery Street in Vilonia, Ark. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Piles of debris is all that's left to homes located off Cemetery Street in Vilonia, Ark., after a tornado struck the town, Monday, April 28, 2014. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said.. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Raella Faulkner, at left, and Bobby McElroy survey what's left of their home Monday, April 28, 2014 after a tornado struck the town of Vilonia, Ark. late Sunday. The couple rode out the storm safely in a nearby storm shelter. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, third from right, surveys the tornado damage along Aspen Creek Drive in the Parkwood neighborhood off Naylor Road in Vilonia, Ark. after a tornado struck the town. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
Graphic shows how tornadoes are formed.
Leah, daughter of Jon Zieske, looks for belongings at her father's house in Paron, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014 after a tornado. A storm system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Christina Huynh)
Piles of mangles cars and destroyed homes sit along Aspen Creek Drive in the Parkwood Neighborhood off Naylor Road in Vilonia, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014 after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. Vilonia was hit hard Sunday after a tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left more than a dozen dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Karen E. Segrave)
VILONIA, ARKANSAS - APRIL 28: Flag that was found in debris was placed by volunteers working to help clean up after a strong tornado went through the area on April 27 for the second time in three years on April 28, 2014 in Vilonia, Arkansas. After deadly tornadoes ripped through the area and have left over a dozen dead, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee are all under watch as multiple storms over the next few days are expected. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
VILONIA, ARKANSAS - APRIL 28: Lisa Taney, a volunteer, goes through wedding photos found in the mud near a destroyed trailer after a strong tornado went through the area on April 27 for the second time in three years on April 28, 2014 in Vilonia, Arkansas. After deadly tornadoes ripped through the area and have left over a dozen dead, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee are all under watch as multiple storms over the next few days are expected. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Bob Van Byssum walks through his home in Little Rock, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014. A tornado struck the central Arkansas town Sunday. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)
A debris trail, bottom, left when a tornado struck a Vilonia, Ark., neighborhood, leads from the rows of houses Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday, killing at least 16 people. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A travel trailer sits inn the rubble of a house in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. A storm system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left at least 16 dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A row of lightly damages houses, top, face destroyed homes in a Vilonia, Ark., neighborhood Monday, April 28, 2014 after a tornado struck the town late Sunday, killing at least 16 people. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Two men stand in front of a destroyed house in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. A tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left at least 17 dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A tornado's path is seen in an aerial photo made over Baxter Springs, Kan., Monday, April 28, 2014. A tornado damaged dozens of buildings and injured at least 25 people on Sunday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 28: In this handout provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the GOES-East satellite, a weather system travels over the continental United States that produced at least 31 tornadoes through the Plains and South pictured at 17:45 UTC. After deadly tornadoes ripped through the area on April 27, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee are all under watch as multiple storms over the next few days are expected. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)
Damage shows the path of tornado through Quapaw, Okla., Monday, April 28, 2014. The tornado was among a rash of tornadoes and heavy storms that rumbled across the center and south of the country overnight. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana on Monday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Damage shows the path of tornado through Quapaw, Okla., Monday, April 28, 2014. The tornado was among a rash of tornadoes and heavy storms that rumbled across the center and south of the country overnight. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana on Monday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Debris from tornado damage ends up in a field outside Quapaw, Okla., Monday, April 28, 2014. The tornado was among a rash of tornadoes and heavy storms that rumbled across the center and south of the country overnight. The National Weather Service warned that more tornadoes, damaging winds and very large hail would strike in parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana on Monday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Houses are destroyed in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. A tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left at least 17 dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
People walk between two destroyed houses in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. A tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left at least 17 dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
People walk between two destroyed houses in Mayflower, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. A tornado system ripped through several states in the central U.S. and left at least 17 dead in a violent start to this year's storm season, officials said. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A tornado's path is seen in an aerial photo made over Baxter Springs, Kan., Monday, April 28, 2014. A tornado damaged dozens of buildings and injured at least 25 people on Sunday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
John Ward, an automobile and RV dealer, looks an tornado damage to one of his trucks in Mayflower, Ark., Sunday, April 27, 2014. A tornado struck the dealer's on lot Sunday. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Travel trailers and motor homes are piled on top of each other at Mayflower RV in Mayflower, Ark., Sunday, April 27, 2014.A powerful storm system rumbled through the central and southern United States on Sunday, spawning tornadoes. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A man walks past a wrecked automobile and RV on Interstate 40 in Mayflower, Ark., Sunday, April 27, 2014. A powerful storm system rumbled through the central and southern United States on Sunday, spawning a massive tornado (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
A trail of debris, bottom, leads along the path of a tornado-devastated neighborhood in Vilonia, Ark., Monday, April 28, 2014, after a tornado struck the town late Sunday. The most powerful twister this year carved an 80-mile path of destruction through suburbs north of the state capital of Little Rock, killing at least 16 people. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
TUPELO, MS - APRIL 29: Tow truck workers attempt to right a tractor trailer that was tipped over during a tornado on April 29, 2014 in Tupelo, Mississippi. A deadly tornado ripped through the area April 28, after deadly storms moved through the south spawning tornadoes that have left more than a dozen dead. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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By Robbie Ward

(Reuters) - On a second day of ferocious storms that have claimed at least 21 lives in the southern United States, a tornado tore through the Mississippi town of Tupelo on Monday causing widespread destruction to homes and businesses, according to witnesses and local emergency officials.

At least one person was killed in Tupelo, a city of about 35,000 in the northeast of the state and the birthplace of Elvis Presley.

Most of the deaths from the severe storm system occurred on Sunday when tornadoes tossed cars like toys in Arkansas and other states.

Monday's twister in Tupelo, one of several to tear across Mississippi, damaged hundreds of homes and businesses, downed power lines and tore up trees, the National Weather Service said.

"It was real bad. We're trying to pull people out," Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre, told Reuters, referring to emergency crews going house to house, searching damaged buildings.

Power was out in much of the city, where officials imposed an 8 p.m. (0100 GMT) curfew. Some residential areas were closed off as emergency crews checked downed power lines and gas leaks.

"It's a very serious situation," said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton. "I am just encouraging everyone to stay inside and be weather aware. There is still a very real danger of another line coming through and people still need to be inside."

Some residents whose homes were destroyed took refuge in a Red Cross shelter at a downtown sports arena.

"I heard snapping and I said, 'Get down on the floor!' And then the trees started falling over," said Moe Kirk Bristow, a Tupelo resident. "I haven't seen a house yet that doesn't have a tree through it or on it, so it's bad."

Another woman, Reginia DeWalt said she was awakened when the tornado roared by. "It sounded like a big pressure washer - but worse," she said.

The storm system later pushed into parts of Alabama, where emergency officials said at least two people were killed at a trailer park near Athens, Alabama. Parts of western Georgia and Tennessee also were at risk as the system that spawned the tornadoes headed east toward the Mid-Atlantic states.

Rescue workers, volunteers and victims have been sifting through the rubble in the hardest-hit state of Arkansas, looking for survivors in central Faulkner County where a tornado reduced homes to splinters, snapped power lines and mangled trees.

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe said at least 15 people had died statewide in the storm that authorities said produced the first fatalities of this year's tornado season.

Nine of the victims on Sunday came from the same street in Vilonia, a town with a population of about 4,100.

A new middle school set to open in August in the town was heavily damaged by a tractor trailer blown into its roof. A steel farm shop anchored to concrete was blown away.

Governor Beebe recounted how one woman died when the door of her home's reinforced safe room collapsed, while a father and three daughters survived by seeking shelter in a bathtub that was flipped over in winds that leveled the house.

The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to sift through the wreckage. Beebe declared a state of disaster for Faulkner and two other counties.

One person was killed in neighboring Oklahoma and another in Iowa, state authorities said.

A tornado in Baxter Springs, Kansas, that touched down on Sunday evening destroyed as many as 70 homes and 25 businesses and injured 34 people of whom nine were hospitalized, state and county officials said. One person was killed in Kansas, likely due to the same storm system, officials said.

The National Weather Service said the threat of tornadoes will last for several days as a strong weather system interacts with a large area of unstable air across the central and southern United States.

'LONG ROAD TO HEALING'

"Everything is just leveled to the ground," Vilonia resident Matt Rothacher said. "It cut a zig-zag right through town."

Rothacher was at home with his wife and four children when the tornado passed through. While his home survived, The Valley Church where he serves as pastor was flattened.

Two elementary school-aged boys died in their home after having a pizza dinner at a friend's home, said Rothacher, who was helping provide grief counseling to the family that had sent the two boys home after they finished their meal as the storm approached.

The home that the boys left survived the tornado. The home the boys returned to did not, Rothacher said.

"These homes, these lives, won't be put back together anytime soon. It will be a long road to healing for these families."

The White House said President Barack Obama, who has been on a trip abroad, called Beebe to receive an update on the damage and to offer condolences.

Medical officials reported at least 100 people in Arkansas were injured.

"I've never seen destruction like this before," U.S. Representative Tim Griffin told reporters after touring Vilonia, which was previously hit by a tornado about three years ago. "I saw a Dr. Seuss book in the rubble. I saw a Spider-Man shirt in the rubble. It just breaks your heart."

(Additional reporting by Emily LeCoz in Oxford, Mississippi, Steve Barnes and Suzi Parker in Little Rock, Arkansas, Verna Gates in Birmingham, Kevin Gray in Miami; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and David Adams; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum, Chris Reese, Cynthia Osterman, Ken Wills, and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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