Atkins, Ark. - Tornadoes tore across Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring several others in a rare midwinter outbreak of violent weather.

A couple and a child were killed after a tornado touched down near the center of Atkins, a community of 3,000 along the Arkansas River in the central part of the state, the Pope County Sheriff's Office said.

On primary election day, at least one voting site in Atkins continued functioning as a Red Cross shelter after polls closed, Natasha Naragon, a spokeswoman with the secretary of state's office.

"It's been a wild night," said state emergency management spokesman Tommy Jackson. "A heck of a way to have elections in Arkansas."

Cell phone pictures sent to television stations showed a dark, broad funnel approaching the town. Traffic was snarled on nearby Interstate 40, with reports of tractor-trailers on their sides.

At least six tornadoes touched down between Oxford, Miss., and Jackson, Tenn., said Richard Okulski of the National Weather Service in Memphis.

In Oxford, 11 people ranging in age from infants to senior citizens were taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital with injuries caused by a tornado, Peyton Warrington, the hospital's assistant administrator. They were stable, he said.

One storm tore a large part of the north wall off Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis. Steve Cole of the Memphis Police Department said a few people north of the mall took shelter under a bridge and were washed away, but were pulled out of the Wolf River with only scrapes.

Later, the same system damaged a dormitory at Union University in Jackson, where a 2003 tornado killed 11 people and one in 1999 killed nine. Eight students were trapped Tuesday but weren't seriously injured, school spokesman Tim Ellsworth said.

In Arkansas, the Baxter County Sheriff's Office said debris, including parts of houses, blocked U.S. Highway 62. The town of Gassville was sealed off because of the possibility of gas leaks resulting in an explosion, and injury reports could not be confirmed because phone lines were down.

On the town's south side, a trailer park was hit and a McDonald's restaurant was damaged.

Twisters in northern Mississippi tore through buildings and ripped down power lines. The National Weather Service said it had received reports of injuries in the area, but the extent of those injuries was not immediately available.

A tornado shredded warehouses in an industrial park in Southaven, said Desoto County Sheriff's Department Cmdr. Steve Atkinson.

"It ripped the warehouses apart. The best way to describe it is it looks like a bomb went off," Atkinson said. "A lot of fire departments are here and we're searching each warehouse to see if there was anybody in there. It's going to be a time consuming thing and we'll probably be searching into the morning."


Associated Press writer Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.