Several people have died in a series of powerful storms and tornadoes sweeping across the central United States. Officials have warned residents in parts of Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois to stay vigilant and “take cover as needed” as the extreme weather conditions continue to threaten the region.
A tornado killed at least three people in Golden City, Missouri, and injured several others in nearby Carl Junction on Wednesday, state authorities said.
According to The Weather Channel, that same twister may have then struck the town of Joplin — exactly eight years after a catastrophic tornado devastated the city. The 2011 EF5 tornado killed more than 150 people in the town and injured hundreds of others.
No serious injuries have been reported in Joplin following Wednesday’s storm.
Late Wednesday night, the National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency after a powerful “wedge tornado” — so called because its funnel is wider than it is tall — was observed over the state capital of Jefferson City in Cole County. The “violent tornado” was moving at a speed of 40 mph, the weather service said, and had sent debris 13,000 feet into the air.
A 3-mile-wide area in Jefferson City received the brunt of the damage, Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said during a news conference Thursday morning.
Approximately 20 people across Cole County have been transported to hospitals, he said. No fatalities or missing persons had been reported in the county as of Thursday morning.
Search-and-rescue teams were going door-to-door to check on residents, according to officials.
“If we have to, we will use force to enter a home to make sure everyone inside is safe,” Williams said. “That counts for businesses as well.”
Extensive infrastructure damage has been reported in the area, though the extent remains unknown as officials continue to assess the situation.
“Without a doubt, we were overwhelmed,” Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said during the news conference. “It’s a godsend that nobody was injured more than they were.”
As CNN noted, the tornadoes are part of a spring storm system that has lashed the central U.S. with rain, flash flooding and hail over the past few days.
Several other storm-related fatalities were reported earlier this week, including a Missouri couple killed in a car accident during a downpour on Tuesday and a woman who died after a tornado struck a farmstead in rural west-central Iowa in the early hours of Wednesday.
At least seven storm-related fatalities have been reported, according to The Weather Channel.
Watches for tornadoes and flash flooding have been placed for swathes of the region, stretching from Oklahoma City to central Illinois. Extreme weather events could continue to threaten the area until Thursday.
Officials have urged residents to check local forecasts and to take necessary precautions.
“Follow your local weather forecasts, take storm warnings seriously, & act quickly to protect yourself & your family,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) tweeted Wednesday.
This article has been updated with information from Thursday’s news conference.