Forecasters say Jackson and Tupelo in Mississippi and Huntsville, Ala., are in the highest risk area for severe weather


Tornadoes have killed at least 16 people -- including 10 in one small Arkansas community -- from a line of severe thunderstorms now threatening to bring high winds, hail and possible twisters to southern Kentucky and Tennessee into Mississippi and Alabama.

The dead included a father and two daughters in Arkansas's Pulaski County.

Forecasters say Jackson and Tupelo in Mississippi and Huntsville, Ala., are in the highest risk area for severe weather.

As of early Monday morning, 30 tornadoes were reported overnight in seven states, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Although Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday that the death toll is likely to rise as rescue teams work through the hardest-hit areas, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management now says the death toll in Arkansas is 14, not 16 as originally reported, according to KTHV-TV.

That includes at least 10 people were killed in the small central Arkansas community of Vilonia, north of Little Rock, by a huge twister that ripped homes from foundations and flipped cars.

"It's chaos here," James Firestone, mayor of Vilonia, told CNN. "Our downtown area seems like it's completely leveled."

"There's a few buildings partially standing, but the amount of damage is tremendous," he said. "There's gas lines spewing. Of course, power lines down. Houses are just a pile of brick."

Beebe also said there is "huge flooding" in Clay County and other parts of the state that were spared direct hits by tornadoes.

The governor said large numbers of volunteers have poured into the hardest-hit areas. Some people, especially those hit by tornadoes in the past, threw a chain-saw in a truck and came in and started clearing limbs off highways or doing what ever was needed.

"Arkansans are resilient, and they do work together," the governor said. "Neighbors help neighbors and other communities help other communities, and we are seeing that here."

The half-mile-wide twister also slammed into nearby Mayflower, carving a 30-mile trail of death and destruction. The Arkansas National Guard sent 46 members to the two hard-hit towns.

"It's just devastating," Sheriff Andy Shock of Faulkner County, Ark., told KTHV-TV after surveying damage in Vilonia, which has a population of 3,800.

He said he expects the death toll to rise as rescue teams search the debris.

Among the ruins is a new $14 million intermediate school in Vilonia that was set to open this fall.

"There's just really nothing there anymore. We're probably going to have to start all over again," said Vilonia school Superintendent Frank Mitchell.

Karla Ault, a Vilonia High School volleyball coach, said she sheltered in the school gymnasium as the storm approached. After it passed, her husband told her their home was gone -- reduced to the slab on which it had sat.

"I'm just kind of numb. It's just shock that you lost everything. You don't understand everything you have until you realize that all I've got now is just what I have on," Ault said.

For the second time in three years, Colton Deason and his family escaped serious injury or death by taking refuge in an underground shelter at their Vilonia home.

"This one just leveled everything," he told KTHV.

The tornado, he said, destroyed his home, horses, storage shed and five vehicles -- ''gone in a matter of seconds."

In Mayflower, residents have been instructed to stay off the streets and to boil their water before using. Shelters have been opened at the Mayflower High School and middle school.

In the Mayflower Plantation Subdivision alone, 60 homes sustained extensive damage, Faulkner county officials report, according to KTHV.

Mark Ausbrooks said "it turned pitch black" when the storm struck.

"I ran and got pillows to put over our heads and ... all hell broke loose," he told The Associated Press, adding: "My parents' home, it's gone completely."

Brandon Morris with ADEM said one person is confirmed dead in White County, Ark., the television station reported. At least three people were killed in Pulaski County, not five as originally reported.

Storm victims are facing a massive cleanup effort after deadly tornadoes swept through parts of the South and Central U.S. Much of the damage occured overnight, completely destroying some homes. VPC

Interstate 40, littered with overturned vehicles 22 miles northwest of Little Rock, was shut down in both directions.

The twister shredded cars, trucks and 18-wheelers stuck along Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. After the storm passed, tractor-trailer rigs tried to navigate through the damage to continue their journeys, while gawkers held smartphones to their windows to offer a grim glimpse of the destruction.

One person was also killed in Oklahoma and one in Iowa.

One twister hit the small northeastern Oklahoma town of Quapaw, killing one person, according to Ottawa County sheriff's dispatcher Kelli Soechs.

After hitting Quapaw, the tornado moved north to Kansas and hit Baxter Springs about 5 miles away. Cherokee County, Kan., sheriff's dispatcher Josh Harvey said the tornado injured several people.

Emergency officials in Iowa said at least one person was killed by a twister in Keokuk County.

A twister also hit Baxter Springs, Kan., injured at least 25 people and destroying 60 to 70 homes and 20 to 25 businesses in the city of roughly 4,200 residents, according to Cherokee County, Kan., emergency manager Jason Allison.

At a news conference in the Philippines, President Obama sent his condolences to those affected by the tornado and promised that the federal government would help in the recovery.

"Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes," Obama said.

Contributing: William M. Welch; The Associated Press

Multiple people died and there is mass destruction following a tornado that swept through central Arkansas Sunday night. VPC

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