At least seven people were injured, two critically, when a tornado touched down in northwestern Arkansas early Wednesday morning, damaging buildings, knocking out power and displacing residents, officials said.
A National Weather Service team that was sent to Springdale, Ark., to confirm the tornado found damage consistent with a category of tornado that can have wind gusts of up to 135 miles per hour, according to Robert Darby, a Weather Service meteorologist in Tulsa, Okla.
“It’s categorized officially as a strong tornado,” Mr. Darby said of the storm’s 2 rating on the enhanced Fujita scale. “These nighttime tornadoes are particularly dangerous when people are asleep and may not receive the warnings,” he added.
Seven people were taken to area hospitals, including two people who were in critical condition, Mayor Doug Sprouse of Springdale said in a statement.
The Springdale School District closed schools on Wednesday because of the severe weather and power outages. The district reported significant damage to George Elementary School, in Springdale.
“The gymnasium was destroyed and the kitchen and cafeteria were severely damaged,” the school district said on Facebook.
As the storm system moved east across Arkansas, the Weather Service in Little Rock issued a tornado watch for parts of the state, along with portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, until 8 p.m. Central time Wednesday, noting that several tornadoes were likely.
The bad weather caused widespread power outages throughout Arkansas on Wednesday. More than 16,000 customers were without power late Wednesday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.US, a website that aggregates data from utilities. The Arkansas Division of Emergency Managements said that Verizon was reporting that 40 to 60 sites were down, which was disrupting service.
A tornado watch is in effect until 9 p.m local time for parts of Louisiana including the New Orleans area, which last week was battered by a tornado that killed at least one person and caused heavy damage and power outages. And earlier this month, a tornado was blamed for at least one death in Texas, where a storm system left a trail of destruction as it moved over areas of the Deep South.