Tornado Hits Arkansas

MENA, Ark. (AP) - A tornado struck a small Arkansas town on
Thursday night, causing minor injuries, as part of a severe storm
system moving quickly across the nation's midsection.

The reported tornado scored a direct hit on the Polk County
Courthouse in Mena, near the Oklahoma state line, said Renee
Preslar, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency
Management.

Gov. Mike Beebe dispatched 30 National Guard soldiers to the
town after local officials asked for troops to secure the heavily
damaged downtown area, Preslar said.

Twelve minor injuries were reported in Mena, but authorities
were going door-to-door checking for more injuries. A 13th person
was hospitalized in Howard County after a tree was toppled onto a
house.

A state trooper in Mena called for assistance after his patrol
car got stuck in the storm, pelted with debris and covered with
power lines, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

"I'm in the middle of a tornado," Sadler said the trooper
reported.

Damage also was reported in eastern Oklahoma, apparently from
the same storm.

Preslar said local officials had asked utility companies to shut
off all gas lines to Mena and surrounding areas. Sadler said
troopers reported a gas main had been ruptured.

The National Weather Service reported that 3-inch diameter hail
- forecasters described it as apple-sized - fell south of Mena just
before the tornado hit downtown. Tornado damage was also reported
at Ink, 5 miles east of Mena.

A twister damaged chicken houses in Howard County and another
storm damaged an oil rig in Miller County, near the Louisiana and
Texas state lines.

Violent thunderstorms moved quickly across southern Missouri,
carrying large hail, winds up to 60 and 70 mph and reports of
funnel clouds and tornadoes. There were no immediate reports of
heavy damage. Scattered power outages were reported in several
counties.

In North Texas earlier in the day, officials said wind gusts
delayed flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

"Our biggest problem is extremely strong cross winds - heavy,
westerly winds," said Tim Smith, an American Airlines spokesman.

The winds also fueled grassfires that forced some evacuations
across portions of North and West Texas on Thursday.


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