US tornadoes leave least 12 dead
Powerful storms that spawned tornadoes killed at least 12 people, including six in Illinois who were crushed when a house collapsed on them, US authorities have said.
Three people in Missouri were also killed by a storm that struck during the night. A tornado temporarily closed the famous entertainment strip in Branson, Missouri, where country music shows and other performers draw thousands of people a day.
Six people died when a tornado struck Harrisburg, Illinois, a town of nearly 10,000 people, Mayor Eric Gregg said, describing the storm damage as "horrific."
The two men and four women In Harrisburg were killed when powerful winds lifted a house up and then dropped it on other homes.Two people also died in Tennessee as the storms moved across a wide area.
"There are hundreds of homes damaged, millions of dollars in damage. The hospital is severely damaged. There's a mall with 10 stores that was destroyed," Mr Gregg said.
Mike Hancock, an employee of the US forest service, and several others armed with tools attempted a rescue where the six people died. "We crawled in there as much as we could. Then there wasn't enough stability, the whole foundation was shaking. We had to get out of there," he said.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn issued a disaster declaration for the southern third of the state, Missouri governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency for the state, while Kansas governor Sam Brownback declared a state of disaster emergency for Wabaunsee County.
The National Weather Service's storm prediction centre rated the Harrisburg tornado an EF-4, or one notch below the strongest tornadoes. An EF-4 ranking means winds of up to 320km/h (200 mph). The EF-4 rating put it on par with the devastating tornado that killed 64 people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last April, and one notch below the massive EF-5 Joplin storm that flattened whole sections of the Missouri town.
The violent weather prompted reports of 18 tornadoes across six states, including Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service.
There were tornado watches issued for parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio.
The storms raised fears that 2012 will be another bad year for tornadoes after 550 people died in the US from them last year, the deadliest year in nearly a century, according to the Weather Service. The highest death tolls were from an April outbreak in Alabama and Mississippi that claimed 364 lives, and the tornado in Joplin on May 22nd that killed 161 people.
Tornadoes caused $28.7 billion in damage last year, according to the US National Climatic Data Center.