JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A tornado caused heavy damage in Missouri’s capital city as severe weather swept across the state overnight, causing at least three deaths and injuring nearly two dozen people as homes and businesses were ripped apart.
The National Weather Service confirmed the large and destructive tornado moved over Jefferson City shortly before midnight on Wednesday.
“Across the state, Missouri’s first responders once again responded quickly and with strong coordination as much of the state dealt with extremely dangerous conditions that left people injured, trapped in homes, and tragically led to the death of three people,” Gov. Mike Parson said.
Missouri Public Safety said the three were killed in the Golden City area of Barton County, near Missouri’s southwest corner, as the severe weather moved in from Oklahoma, where rescuers struggled to pull people from high water.
The tornado hit during a week that has seen several days of tornadoes and torrential rains in parts of the southern Plains and Midwest.
No deaths were reported in the capital, but Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said about 20 people were rescued by emergency personnel.
The weather service reported that a “confirmed large and destructive tornado” was observed over Jefferson City at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday, moving northeast at 40 mph.
The capital city has a population of about 40,000 and is located about 130 miles west of St. Louis.
“It’s a chaotic situation right now,” Williams said.
Williams spoke from the Cole County Sheriff’s Office, where debris including insulation, roofing shingles and metal pieces lay on the ground outside the front doors.
Authorities were discouraging people from beginning clean-up efforts until power is safely restored. Hospitals set up command centers in case the need arises.
Missouri Public Safety tweeted that there was a possibility of more tornadoes and flash flooding.
Austin Thomson, 25, was in the laundry room of his complex of two-story apartment buildings to do his wash and noticed the wind started picking up.
He saw sheets of rain coming down and a flagpole bend and then slam to the ground. The windows broke and he dove behind the washers and dryers.
After it calmed down, he walked outside to check the damage, and retrieved a stuffed animal for his daughter from his damaged apartment.
“There’s basically one building that’s basically one story now,” he said.
The weather service said it had received 22 reports of tornadoes by late Wednesday; some could be duplicate reporting of the same twister.
One tornado skirted just a few miles north of Joplin, Missouri, on the eighth anniversary of a catastrophic tornado that killed 161 people in the city.
The tornado caused some damage in the town of Carl Junction, about 4 miles north of the Joplin airport, where several injuries were reported.
Storms and torrential rains have ravaged the Midwest, from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.
Two barges broke loose and floated swiftly down the swollen Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma on Wednesday, spreading alarm downstream as they threatened to hit a dam.
Authorities urged residents of several small towns in Oklahoma and Kansas to leave their homes as rivers and streams rose.
The Arkansas River town of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, was one such town. Town officials ordered a mandatory evacuation Wednesday afternoon because of the river’s rising level.
But Wednesday evening, a posting on the town’s official Facebook page sounded the alarm about the runaway barges for its 600 residents: “Evacuate Webbers Falls immediately. The barges are loose and has the potential to hit the lock and dam 16. If the dam breaks, it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!”
There was no word by midnight Wednesday where the barges were on the river, but local television stations showing live video of the river and the lock and dam said they had not yet arrived.
The Arkansas River was approaching historic highs, while the already high Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were again rising after a multi-day stretch of storms that produced dozens of tornadoes.
Forecasters predicted parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas could see more severe weather on Thursday.
Deaths from this week’s storms include a 74-year-old woman found early Wednesday morning in Iowa.
Officials there say she was killed by a possible tornado that damaged a farmstead in Adair County.
Missouri authorities said heavy rain was a contributing factor in the deaths of two people in a traffic accident Tuesday near Springfield.
A fourth weather-related death might have occurred in Oklahoma, where the Highway Patrol said a woman apparently drowned after driving around a barricade Tuesday near Perkins, about 45 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.
The unidentified woman’s body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office to confirm the cause of death.
Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said she isn’t yet listed as what would be the state’s first storm-related death.