(CNN) — Severe weather rampaged across the U.S. heartland, claiming at least eight lives across Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, in what has already become a historic spring storm season.
Early Wednesday, the storm system was contributing to sleepless nights from southwestern Iowa to central Texas, pelting many areas with golf ball-size hail.
The powerful storms paid another visit to Joplin, Missouri, where a weekend tornado killed 124 people, making it the deadliest single U.S. twister since modern record-keeping began 61 years ago.
The city was briefly under a tornado warning late Tuesday before it was raked by blustery winds and peppered with lightning.
Twisters also brewed in Dallas and several northern Texas counties, according to the National Weather Service, with at least one tornado reported on the ground.
In Arkansas’ Franklin County, a tornado touched down shortly after midnight, leaving behind extensive damage, said Steve Piltz, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It killed at least one person, the Arkansas State Police said.
“We could see debris in the radar returns we were receiving, and that gave us a good indication the tornado was strong and large,” Piltz said, adding the tornado was anywhere from a half-mile to a mile wide.
In Stafford County, Kansas, two motorists died when an uprooted tree slammed into their van, according to the state adjutant general’s office.
The deadly string of tornadoes that hit central Oklahoma killed at least five people in Canadian County, injured dozens and destroyed homes and vehicles, officials said.
“Piedmont is the hardest hit area. There’s more damage in Piedmont because it’s the most densely populated area,” according to Canadian County Sheriff Randall Edwards, who said he expects more fatalities.
Authorities searched for a missing toddler early Wednesday.
“The 3-year-old was one of three children missing,” Edwards said. “We have found two of the three alive, but we have not found the third yet.”
A large tornado crossed I-40 near El Reno, destroyed residences and caused a gas leak at an energy plant west of the state capital, Edwards said.
Twenty workers were injured at a drilling rig, according to El Reno City spokesman Terry Floyd.
The twister injured motorists on I-40 and U.S. 81, Canadian County Emergency Management Director Jerry Smith said. There were reports of property damage in the area.
Another tornado was seen in Chickasha, about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.
“It’s been quite a day,” said Pastor Gary Rogers of the Grand Assembly of God church in Chickasha. “We’ve lost about half of our roof.”
The church was empty at the time of the storm, Rogers said. “Thank God we weren’t (there). No one was there.” Twenty-four hours later, the church would have been bustling with Wednesday activities.
State officials received reports of damaged businesses in Chickasha.
“It came right past the store,” said Chickasha AutoZone employee Nathaniel Charlton. “They had a little debris thrown across the parking lot. It was on the ground, but it wasn’t bad.”
The tornado that passed through Chickasha also damaged several other communities, including Newcastle.
About 1,200 people packed a shelter in Newcastle, a bedroom community near Oklahoma City, during the storm, said City Manager Nick Nazar. “That saved lives.”
About 100 people were displaced, and 50 homes were rendered uninhabitable, Nazar told CNN. Two or three businesses were damaged, as was an elementary school.
Statewide, at least 60 people were hurt and nearly 58,000 homes lost power, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
Some employees at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman briefly took shelter as a tornado approached, a spokesman for the National Weather Service agency told CNN.
Emergency personnel were mobilized in the immediate aftermath of the storms, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“The National Guard is out helping, our highway patrol, our health department, Salvation Army, Red Cross, all of our first responders are out across the state,” she said, noting the massive outbreak of tornadoes that lasted most of Tuesday evening.
“I’ve been in (public) office for 20 years. I’ve been through a lot of these natural disasters, but I’ve never seen this many in a short period of time.”
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