At least 5 killed as tornado slices through southeastern Missouri

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 told NBC News 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.

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, with 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 incoming tornado that rocked his community.

Despite extensive damage to his house, he counted himself to be 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.”

A drone photo surveying the damage from a tornado that hit southeast Missouri
Damage from a tornado that hit southeast Missouri on Wednesday. Missouri State Highway Patrol via AP

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 see severe weather Wednesday night, with damaging winds, large hail and possible tornadoes.

Severe weather was also reported in other states Tuesday night, including Illinois and Iowa.

A tornado 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 half of a football field, according to the National Weather Service.

Several buildings were damaged but no injuries or deaths were reported, the agency said.

There have been at least 478 tornado reports across 25 states so far 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 fatalities in southeastern Missouri. The annual average of tornado-related deaths is 71.

Those twisters have been linked to at least 63 deaths, not including the multiple fatalities in southeastern Missouri. The annual average of tornado-related deaths is 71.

Melanie Kucera, Cristian Santana, The Associated Press and Tim Stelloh contributed.

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