Multiple deaths as tornadoes strike southern US

Multiple deaths as tornadoes strike southern US
Photo taken by Alexandra Sutter showing the extent of the tornado damage in Illinois.

WASHINGTON - Powerful tornadoes killed at least 17 people as they flipped cars, ripped up homes and uprooted trees across south-central United States, emergency officials reported Monday.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said that 15 people were killed when tornadoes touched down on Sunday, while an official with the Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency said there were at least two tornado victims in the state.

"It's chaos right now," the mayor of the Arkansas town of Velonia, James Firestone, told CNN late Sunday as emergency crews used searchlights to comb through the debris overnight in some of the hardest-hit areas.

The central part of the town of 4,000 "seems like it's completely levelled. There's a few buildings partially standing, gas lines spewing. Fire lines down. We've had some casualties." The twisters tore through the region Sunday and overnight into Monday, and are forecast to threaten much of the region through Tuesday.

Homes reduced to rubble

Firestone said that police and firefighters from nearby cities as well as National Guard troops were heading to Velonia.

Twisters also devastated large sections of the town of Mayflower, population 2,300, just northwest of the Arkansas state capital Little Rock.

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