Storms bring wild variety of severe weather

(CNN) — Possible tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail are threatening a large swath of the Southeast, forecasters say.

A round of severe weather is expected Thursday across the eastern Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys, as well as the southern Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, the National Weather Service said.

The greatest risk for severe weather is focused on portions of Alabama, Georgia and the Florida Panhandle, the agency said.

Earlier, the storm system struck Missouri and Arkansas, where residents are grappling with the aftermath of a series of storms that spawned at least two tornadoes.

At least 24 homes in Hazelwood, Missouri, sustained severe damage from Wednesday night’s storms, the St. Louis County Office of Emergency Management said.

One tornado touched down in the St. Louis suburb, ripping the roofs off of several homes, Hazelwood communications manager Tim Davidson said. No serious injuries were immediately reported.

Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri after a series of storms pummeled the St. Louis area and elsewhere across the state. Nixon will tour damaged areas Thursday, his website said.

Another tornado touched down in Arkansas, damaging at least 33 homes and leaving three people injured in Van Buren County, about 75 miles north of Little Rock.

The twister demolished the sanctuary, fellowship area, classrooms and a pavilion at Botkinburg Foursquare Church, its pastor said.

“If the tornado would have come an hour and a half later, we would have been caught in it,” said Senior Pastor Ester Bass, referring to Wednesday night services.

No members of the church were injured.

But a passing motorist who parked his truck in the church drive-through to get out of the dangerous weather had a close call when the storm struck.

“It shook the truck and just lifted the roof right off the drive-through,” said Bass. “He was all right.”

Bass, 63, said his congregation of about 100 was left stunned.

“It is just devastating. My wife and I are just torn,” he said. “We put a lot of sweat and hard work and it was paying off. The church was growing.”

As church leaders prepared to meet with their insurance adjuster, the pastor was thankful for a loyal membership.

“They will be with me,” he said. “They are ready to buckle down and do what we have to. With the Lord’s help, we are going to rebuild.”

Damage also was reported in Fulton County, near the Missouri border, and in Conway, Lincoln and White counties. About 15 homes were damaged in Izard County, said Tommy Jackson of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Storm spotters reported overturned vehicles along U.S. 65, north of Clinton.

The severe weather season started late in Arkansas because of a chilly March, Robinson said. So far this year, six tornadoes have been reported — about half the normal number.

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