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7 people injured in Arkansas tornado

Storm damaged school, homes, businesses

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Updated Mar. 31, 2022,1 p.m. ET.

At least seven people were injured, two critically, when a tornado tore through Springdale, Arkansas, early Wednesday. It happened shortly after 4 a.m. CT, according to the National Weather Service.

Mayor Doug Sprouse issued an emergency proclamation, adding at the time that no fatalities had been reported in the city, which is located in the northwest corner of Arkansas.

“Many residents have been displaced from their homes and numerous businesses have reported significant damages,” Sprouse said in the proclamation.

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Springdale police said at least two of the injured were critically hurt and that all seven had been hospitalized.

A gymnasium at Springdale’s George Elementary School took a direct hit, as did nearby houses and the Nilfisk warehouse. The school’s cafeteria and kitchen were also heavily damaged, according to an AccuWeather report.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Twitter that luckily there were no students inside the school at the time since school had not opened for the day. Officials said school staff nevertheless went door to door in the neighborhood to check on the students and their families.

A survey team with the NWS office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, issued a preliminary rating Wednesday afternoon, saying that the tornado was “at least EF2” strength. As the damage survey continued, the team increased the rating to EF3.

More than 12,000 households and businesses had no electricity in Arkansas as of Wednesday afternoon, down to approximately 4,200 early Thursday morning. About 1,500 of those were in Washington County, where Springdale is located.

Many more severe storms and tornadoes struck several Southern states through Wednesday night, including parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. Some severe storms reached as far north as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

As of early Thursday morning, the NWS had received 31 tornado reports and more than 250 wind damage reports across these states. Tree and power lines had been toppled, with about 145,000 customers still without electricity early Thursday.

Related: Tornadoes across South may further strain flatbed capacity

According to the reports, a semi was blown over on Interstate 55 in northeastern Arkansas in Burdette, and two semis were blown over on Interstate 20 in Girard, Louisiana. The reports didn’t indicate whether the drivers or anyone else were hurt.

The highest straight-line wind gust so far has been 83 mph, recorded in Shelby, Mississippi.

In Florida, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said two people were killed and two injured when a tornado struck Alford, about halfway between Pensacola and Tallahassee. At least two homes there were destroyed.

The threat for severe weather Thursday will be in the Eastern U.S., from parts of northern Florida to New York. The risk is lower than Wednesday, but scattered areas of damaging winds are possible, along with isolated tornadoes and localized flash flooding.

Major lanes of concern

• Interstate 10 from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, Florida.
• Interstate 20 from just east of Atlanta to Florence, South Carolina.
• Interstate 80 from State College, Pennsylvania, to Teaneck, New Jersey.
• Interstate 81 from Roanoke, Virginia, to Binghamton, New York.
• Interstate 85 from Greenville, South Carolina, to Petersburg, Virginia.
• Interstate 95 from Jacksonville to New York City.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.