A devastating tornado tore through southeastern Missouri on Wednesday morning, killing at least five people and leaving widespread destruction as authorities warned of more twisters.
The tornado struck Bollinger County before dawn, sending first responders into a frantic search for injured people caught under the rubble, officials said.
"It’s with great regret that I can confirm five fatalities," Bollinger County Sheriff Casey A. Graham said in statement.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Clark Parrott said early in the afternoon that officials are hopeful the death toll won't grow.
“The damage is pretty widespread. It’s just heartbreaking to see it,” he said.
Officials in Louisville reported extensive damage and a possible death after a tornado struck Wednesday afternoon. At a news conference, Mayor Craig Greenberg said that the death might be linked to the storm but that the county coroner would make the determination.
National Weather Service meteorologist John Gordon told reporters that a preliminary assessment showed the tornado touched down in Newburg, just south of downtown Louisville, with 90 mph winds and a width that likely spanned a football field. The area may have also been hit by a second tornado, Gordon said.
In Missouri, the tornado traversed rural Bollinger County, south of St. Louis, at a speed of about 45 mph for about 15 minutes sometime between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m. CT, National Weather Service meteorologist David Witten said.
The agency said the tornado appeared to be a high-end EF2, with estimated peak wind speeds of 130 mph.
"It was significant given how much damage it caused," Witten said, adding: "It looks serious and bad."
A preliminary assessment found that 87 buildings had been damaged, 12 of them destroyed, Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Eric Olson said.
Five people were also injured in the severe weather, he said.
Glen Allen resident Joshua Wells, 30, said he couldn't sleep overnight out of anxiety about the tornado that rocked his community.
Despite extensive damage to his house, he counted himself among the lucky ones.
"It's been hellish," Wells said. "Part of the roof has been sucked off, and one of the exterior walls has been slightly caved in, so it's not really livable. But it's hardly the worst house. There are houses with whole walls taken off, and some buildings have been leveled to the foundation."
The highway patrol has urged people to avoid the area as first responders work to find injured survivors.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center said parts of the Ohio River Valley could get severe weather Wednesday night, with damaging winds, large hail and possible tornadoes.
Severe weather was also reported Tuesday night in Illinois, Iowa and other states.
A tornado that tore across 15 miles of southern Iowa on Tuesday was a recorded as a high-end EF-1, with peak winds of 110 mph and a maximum width that stretched 50 yards, according to the National Weather Service.
Several buildings were damaged, but no injuries or deaths were reported, the agency said.
In Illinois, a local office for the agency said a tornado with peak winds of 160 mph and an EF3 rating struck an area southwest of Peoria on Tuesday night, injuring four people.
The twister lasted more than 20 minutes and covered roughly 18 miles, the agency said.
There have been at least 478 tornado reports across 25 states this year, doubling the average for this point in a single year.
Those twisters have been linked to at least 63 deaths, not including the multiple deaths in southeastern Missouri. The annual average of tornado-related deaths is 71.