Stretch from Chicago to New Orleans on watch; survivor recalls 'Superman' flight

Tornadoes fueled by unusually warm weather pummeled the South and Midwest on Friday, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more across Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Forecasters said storms later in the evening could hit as New Year's Eve celebrations begin along a stretch from near Chicago to New Orleans. Forecasters posted tornado watches for the region that were set to run until 8 p.m.

Three people died in the northwestern Arkansas hamlet of Cincinnati when a tornado touched down just before sunrise, and three others died when a storm spawned by the same weather system ripped up the Missouri countryside near Rolla. A number of storms were also reported in the St. Louis area.

"It sucked me out of my house and carried me across the road and dropped me," Chris Sisemore of Cincinnati told The Associated Press on Friday. "I was Superman for a while. ... You're just free-floating through the air. Trees are knocking you and smacking you down."

In south-central Missouri, officials said a 19-year-old woman and an older female relative died at a farm where the family lived among three mobile homes and two frame houses.

© April L. Brown/Associated PressChris Sizemore describes being thrown from his home by a tornado that tore through Cincinnati, Ark., on Friday.
The victims had been in a mobile home, but a mother and an infant in the trailer were able to run to a sturdier home.

"We found debris from one of the trailers a mile away," Nash said. "One of the frames of the trailer was 15 feet up in a tree. All the frames were all twisted up," and refrigerator from one of the mobile homes was found 200 yards away, he said.

Another woman was killed north of Rolla, not far from Lecoma, when a tornado destroyed her home, according to emergency managers in Phelps County.

In Arkansas, Gerald Wilson, 88, and his wife, Mamie, 78, died in their home and Dick Murray, 78, died after being caught by the storm while milking cows, Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said.

Sisemore's mother, Margie Sisemore, said her son thought a tree had come crashing through his window.

"He jumped under his bed, said it grabbed his legs - took him up through the ceiling and he landed over yonder," she said, gesturing across the street near where the Wilsons died.

© R. Russell/AP PhotoThe fire station in Cincinnati, Ark., was destroyed by the twister that hit Friday.
At Fort Leonard Wood, a storm damaged 20 homes in a neighborhood that houses officers. The fort directed essential personnel to report for duty and that all nonessential personnel should stay away. Spokesman Jeff Maddy said many from the fort were traveling for the holidays.

"The good thing here is if you had to have a storm like this, it couldn't happen at better time because we have the holiday season and so many people are visiting family and friends away from Fort Leonard Wood."

Overnight storms damaged buildings and boat docks around Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri, leaving several boats adrift after wrenching them from their moorings. Several homes and businesses were damaged in the St. Louis County town of Sunset Hills, and a church was damaged in nearby Fenton.

In Illinois, a tornado at Petersburg, northwest of Springfield, knocked a tree onto a car, injuring one person. The injury wasn't considered life-threatening.

Several flights to and from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at Highfill were delayed or canceled Friday morning until crews could clear debris littering the runway.

The region has been bracing for severe weather for much of the week. Gulf moisture riding southerly winds pushed temperatures into the upper 60s and 70s on Thursday - ahead of a cold front expected to drop temperatures into the teens by Saturday morning.

"Anytime you have a significant change in air mass there is going to be unsettled weather marking the two different air masses," said Joe Sellers, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Tulsa, Okla.

Although the spring brings most of the region's tornadoes, violent weather at this time of year isn't unheard of. A February 2008 outbreak killed 31 in Tennessee and 14 in Arkansas, and in January 1999 two separate outbreaks across the South killed 18, including seven in Arkansas.

A year ago, there were no tornado deaths nationwide between Oct. 9, 2009, and March 10, 2010.

Separate watches were issued earlier Friday for parts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi due to severe weather there.

Source: The Associated Press