LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Tornadoes fueled by unusually warm winter air sliced through parts of the South and Midwest on Friday, killing at least five people, injuring dozens of others and knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses.
Three people died in Cincinnati, a northwestern Arkansas hamlet of about 100 residents located three miles from the Oklahoma border, and a sheriff's dispatcher said there were "lots of injuries" after the twister touched down just before sunrise. Tornadoes were also reported near St. Louis, and two people were reported dead in a violent storm in south-central Missouri.
"It sucked me out of my house and carried me across the road and dropped me," Chris Sizemore of Cincinnati said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I was Superman for a while. ... You're just free-floating through the air. Trees are knocking you and smacking you down."
Sizemore said he tried to crawl under his bed and cling to the carpet as the winds shook a pecan tree standing over the house.
"I thought that pecan was coming through the upstairs," he said, nursing cuts, scrapes and bruises to his arms, knees and back.
He said he opened his eyes as he flew, believing he wouldn't see 2011.
"I wanted to see the end coming. You're only going to see it one time and I thought that was it," he said. "It takes more than a tornado to get me."
Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said the tornado killed Gerald Wilson, 88, and his wife, Mamie, 78, in their home. Dick Murray, 78, died, too, in the small town. The sheriff said Murray was milking cows when the tornado hit.
Sizemore's mother, Margie Sizemore, 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. "He's all right, but it killed Mr. Wilson and his wife," who were Chris Sizemore's neighbors.
In Missouri, Emergency Management Coordinator Brad Nash says one person died in Dent County. The National Weather Service said a storm that may have been a tornado destroyed three mobile homes and damaged other property in the county. Damage was also reported in Fort Leonard Wood, and in the Rolla area five people were injured.
"I guess it's a mess out there," said Gary Carmack, chief of the Pulaski County Ambulance District. About 20 homes were damaged in an area of the fort that houses officers.
Penny Cash, a paramedic, said the area where the storm hit was filled with debris.
"There were several houses with half of them gone, roofs missing, power lines down, trees snapped off," she said.
The fort directed essential personnel to report for duty and that all nonessential personnel should stay away.
Overnight storms damaged buildings and boat docks around Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri, leaving several boats adrift after wrenching them from their moorings. At midday, twisters were reported in St. Louis' southern suburbs near Pacific, Mo., and Waterloo, Ill.
Several homes and businesses were damaged in the St. Louis County town of Sunset Hills, and a church was damaged in nearby Fenton.
Several flights to and from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at Highfill, in northwestern Arkansas, were delayed or canceled Friday morning as officials worked to clear storm 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.
Rick Johnson, the deputy emergency manager for Washington County, said the same storm system caused damage in nearby Tontitown, but downed power lines kept emergency responders away.
The Tulsa weather office issued a tornado warning for Cincinnati and area towns at 6 a.m., nine minutes before the storm hit.
Later Friday morning, in south-central Missouri, baseball-sized hail was reported north of Mansfield in Wright County.
"This storm system has been showing significant signs that it could develop," said Chris Buonanno, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in North Little Rock who was monitoring the storms as they moved deeper into Arkansas. "Conditions are favorable for seeing a severe outbreak.
"In the winter you don't always have the instability" that would allow tornadoes to develop, Buonanno said. "This time, we have the instability."
According to records from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., Friday's tornado fatalities are the first in the nation since Sept. 16, when a woman hit a falling tree while driving in Queens, N.Y., and a man was killed in his home at Belleville, W.Va.
The deaths push this year's count to 40 nationally, and to 5 in Arkansas. The death in Missouri was its first of the year.
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