Mena - Battered residents of this western Arkansas city waited for daylight Friday to dig out from a "direct hit" by a tornado that killed three people, injured at least 30, and flattened homes and businesses.

The twister sliced through the Ouachita Mountains community shortly after 8 p.m. Thursday. The county sheriff described the sky turning green, while the airport manager said darkness fell quickly as the twister crossed the Oklahoma line 10 miles away.

"Me and the dog ran to the bathroom when we saw it on the TV," said Rick Lanman, the manager of the Mena Airport. "It was here in less than a minute."

Sirens warned the community for earlier storms north and south of town. When they sounded a fourth time, "experience was telling me that we were in trouble," said Lanman, who said he been through tornadoes before in Oklahoma and Illinois.

Before first light Friday, a convoy of trucks from electric utilities streamed into Mena. Their flashing yellow lights illuminated downed trees and buildings whose roofs and sides had been ripped away. Blue lights from police cruisers lit up debris downtown.

"It just looks like a war zone," Mayor George McKee said.

Prosecutor Tim Williamson said the storm uprooted 100-year-old trees and damaged Civil War-era homes that had been restored. He said the town once looked "pastoral" but added, "It's not anymore."

Emergency workers planned to go door-to-door Friday morning to account for the city's 5,700 residents. Firefighters would likely be needed to slice away fallen trees to clear a path.

"They'll have to cut in for us. It's going to be a long day," Polk County Sheriff Mike Oglesby told Little Rock television station KTHV.

Williamson said dispatchers at the county courthouse had been trapped inside immediately after the storm. He said the county jail was "uninhabitable" and efforts were being made to transfer inmates to nearby counties.

The twister tore the roof off a local community college building destroyed two businesses at the city's industrial park, Williamson said.

The violent weather was part of a system that caused damage throughout the South and parts of the Midwest. The National Weather Service said a woman was injured at Shreveport, La., when a tree fell onto her car during a tornado. Twisters also damaged homes east of Vinita and near Muse in Oklahoma and at Crossett in far southern Arkansas, near the Louisiana line.

As the storms moved east, hail and high winds were reported in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Power was out in many parts of the region.

Authorities have not released the identities of those killed in Mena, a man and two women. One victim was found in a collapsed house, one in a Masonic lodge, and another in her front yard, Reeves said.

The 24 injured people were being treated at Mena Medical Center.

National Guard troops were patrolling the downtown area, and an overnight curfew was in effect as emergency crews dealt with ruptured gas lines, downed power lines, fallen trees and heavily damaged buildings.

Lanman, the airport manager, said his dog Milo was agitated when he arrived home from work Thursday, and that he kept a close eye on the weather as the storms crossed into western Arkansas from Oklahoma.

"We had one warning for a storm to the north of us and a warning for a storm to the south. We were on the very tip. We were at the right spot, I turned on the TV and, sure enough, there it was," Lanman said.

A state trooper in Mena called for assistance after his patrol car got stuck in the storm, pelted with debris and covered with power lines, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said.

"I'm in the middle of a tornado," Sadler said the trooper reported.

The sheriff said deputies reached five children who were in a house that was "basically turned upside down." They were taken to a hospital, he said.

Reeves said he had never seen such a powerful storm hit the tornado-prone region.

"Not in my life time," he said. "The last tornado we had to hit the city of Mena was in November 1993. This time we had significant structures (hit)."