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34 Million Americans in Path of Tornado-Spawning Storm System

by Corky Siemaszko, Alex Johnson and Alastair Jamieson /  / Updated 

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From New Orleans all the way north to Chicago, 34 million Americans were in the path Thursday of a severe storm system that spawned tornadoes in four states, injuring at least 10 people — one of them critically.

Flash floods soaked parts of Arkansas, and flash flood watches were issued for parts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida — with up to 6 inches of rain expected in isolated areas, NBC meteorologist Bill Karins warned.

"The ground is completely saturated, so the water has nowhere to go," said Kait Parker, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel. "Flood issues are a real concern."

Tornado watches were in effect in northern Mississippi and Alabama, as well as parts of south-central Tennessee.

Five twisters were reported Wednesday and at least three more Thursday.

The strongest one touched down Wednesday in north Tulsa, Oklahoma, NBC station KJRH reported. It uprooted trees, damaged some buildings and closed road across the area. The state Emergency Medical Services Authority reported that nine people had been taken to hospitals — most of them seriously injured, with one in critical condition.

In Dermott, Arkansas, one resident was injured by a twister that just missed slamming into a nursing home.

"We had multiple trees and power lines down. ... We could barely get access to the road," Assistant Fire Chief Damond Coffey said.

Other tornadoes were reported Thursday near New Hope, Mississippi, and near Gilbertown in southwest Alabama.

Floodwaters crept into the dorms at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on Wednesday night, reaching shin level in some units and inspiring students to turn their rooms into makeshift swimming pools. School officials, however, warned students to be wary of possibly dangerous chemicals and bacteria in the standing water.

The National Weather Service reported rainfall Wednesday of 4.6 inches in Pine Bluff, a record 5 inches in North Little Rock, 4 inches in Little Rock and 3.7 inches at Little Rock Air Force Base. Severe flooding led the National Weather Service to issue a rare emergency alert for "life threatening" floods in Jonesboro, where several major roads were closed.

Upper Elementary School in Purvis, Mississippi, sustained some roof damage Thursday morning from winds, which downed a tree that was blocking the school's driveway, NBC station WDAM of Hattiesburg reported. No one was injured.

Lee Smithson, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said workers were preparing for as much as 5 inches of rainfall.

"If you live in a mobile home, make plans to stay some place else," he said.

Meanwhile, the mercury was starting to drop in the northern Great Lakes region as a cold front moved in Thursday, said Parker of The Weather Channel.

Snow was in the forecast this weekend in places like Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the high temperatures in some areas along the Canadian border weren't expected to rise out of the 20s.

Snow was in the forecast for Boston on Sunday, and Buffalo was expected to get some flakes Monday, according to the NWS.

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