Tornadoes fueled by unusually warm air pummeled the South and Midwest on Friday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more across Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. Forecasters said storms could hit along a stretch from near Chicago to New Orleans later in the evening as New Year's Eve celebrations begin.
Three people died in the northwestern Arkansas hamlet of Cincinnati when a tornado touched down just before sunrise, and three others died when a storm spawned by the same weather system ripped up the Missouri countryside near Rolla. A number of storms were also reported in the St. Louis area.
The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said storms later Friday could do more damage from northern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico as communities prepare to mark the start of the new year.
"It sucked me out of my house and carried me across the road and dropped me," Chris Sisemore of Cincinnati told the Associated Press on Friday. "I was Superman for a while You're just free-floating through the air. Trees are knocking you and smacking you down."
Sisemore said he tried to crawl under his bed and cling to the carpet, fearful a nearby pecan tree would fall into his home. As he nursed cuts, scrapes and bruises to his arms, knees and back, he recalled opening his eyes as he flew because he didn't believe he'd see 2011.
"I wanted to see the end coming. You're only going to see it one time, and I thought that was it," he said. "It takes more than a tornado to get me."
In south-central Missouri, Megan Rossm, 21, and her grandmother Loretta Anderson, 64, died at a Lecoma farm where their family lived among three mobile homes and two frame houses, Dent County Emergency Management Coordinator Brad Nash said.
A mother and an infant in another trailer were able to run to a sturdier home, he said.
"We found debris from one of the trailers a mile away," Nash said. "One of the frames of the trailer was 15 feet up in a tree. All the frames were all twisted up," and a refrigerator from one of the mobile homes was found 200 yards away, he said.
Another woman was killed north of Rolla, not far from Lecoma, when a tornado destroyed a home, according to emergency managers in Phelps County. The county's Emergency Management Director Sandy North identified that county's victim as Alice Cox, 69, who was from Belle, Mo., and was in the Rolla area visiting a friend, who was seriously injured in the storm.
In Arkansas, Gerald Wilson, 88, and his wife, Mamie, 78, died in their home and Dick Murray, 78, died after being caught by the storm while milking cows, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said.
The storm downed power lines and about 8,000 utility customers were left in the dark in Missouri on New Year's Eve, said Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
He said the Red Cross was providing motel vouchers to people who had been displaced as temperatures were expected to dip, and Fort Leonard Wood officials also had plans to shelter displaced troops and their families.