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MIDWEST STORMS: Fatal Winds Wreak Havoc In Missouri, Southern Illinois

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ST. LOUIS — Powerful thunderstorms and tornadoes battered parts of the Midwest on Friday, leaving four people dead, collapsing a church and knocking out power to thousands, authorities said.

Two people were killed near Poplar Bluff, Mo., when wind knocked a tree onto their sport utility vehicle. In Dallas County, a man in his 70s had a fatal heart attack after he and his wife were sucked from their home by a tornado and thrown into a field 75 to 100 feet away, said county emergency management director Larry Highfill.

The wife was taken to a Springfield hospital. Her condition wasn't immediately known.

A mobile home was blown off its foundation in southeast Kansas, killing a 54-year-old woman inside. Wilson County emergency management spokeswoman Cassandra Edson said it appeared the mobile home was "wrapped around a tree."

Wind in the area reached 120 mph, destroying the New Albany United Methodist Church, the town's post office and at least one home, authorities said. Major damage also was reported to a high school in Cherokee, Kan. and to the courthouse in Doniphan, Mo.

Airplanes were flipped over by winds at the El Dorado, Kan., airport, the Wichita Eagle reported on its Web site. In Towanda, a stone silo bearing the city's name was reduced to rubble.

National Weather Service offices in Springfield, Mo., and St. Louis received multiple reports of tornadoes from one end of Missouri to the other, mostly south of Interstate 44.

The weather service confirmed that at least two tornadoes touched down between 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. in southwest Missouri's Greene County. The county's Office of Emergency Management counted three homes and one business destroyed with 298 homes, 29 businesses and 13 schools damaged.

Also destroyed was a fire station in Ebenezer that opened just a year ago.

Many counties reported wind of 80 mph and higher. Several people were hurt, mostly when wind damaged their homes or businesses, but a few from flash floods.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency.

"My primary concern is the safety of Missourians and this executive order makes state agency resources available to help communities respond to the storms," Nixon said.

In southern Illinois, the storm system peeled siding and roofs off homes and other buildings, blowing out car windows and tearing up trailer parks.

A truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition after a "major trauma," said Rosslynd Rice, a spokeswoman for Southern Illinois Healthcare. About six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, she said.

"It tore the hell out of things," said Calvin Brown at the Cherry Street Pub in Herrin, a town of about 11,000 residents east of Carbondale. "It was wicked. I haven't seen that in a long time."

Carbondale Township fire Capt. Mark Black said he wasn't sure if a tornado touched down in his area but the "winds were just amazing. They were howling and the siding on the trailers was flying through the air and there was a pretty hard rain."

Law enforcement agencies reported tornado touchdowns in the Jackson County community of Raddle and just south of Pinckneyville in Perry County, National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said.

Seeley said the strong line of thunderstorms began moving through the region Friday morning. Wind gusts in the Carbondale area reached 100 mph around 1:30 p.m., and sustained winds were as high as 90 mph.

Carbondale resident Eric Fidler said he rode out the storm in a basement room with his wife, 22-month-old daughter and their dog.

When they emerged, dozens of large, old trees had been snapped throughout his neighborhood _ including an old oak blocking his front door _ but there was little damage to homes. Even the cushions on his patio furniture were undisturbed.

"I was talking to a neighbor and saying, 'This is just incredible. Everywhere I look, there are enormous trees down, but it missed everybody's house,'" said Fidler, who walked a mile to the hardware store for a chain saw.

David Gugerty, 28, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, said a tree crushed his car and a branch tore through the roof of his trailer, coming to rest atop his refrigerator.

"I'm sitting in the trailer park trying to decide which way to run," Gugerty said.

In sparsely populated Dallas County, Mo., seven people were hurt as wind destroyed 35 homes and damaged numerous others, state emergency management officials said. Highfill said all the damaged homes were in the same path, a strong hint that a tornado was to blame.

More than 150,000 homes and businesses across southern Missouri were without power at the peak of the outages Friday, including 60,000 customers in the Joplin area and 70,500 rural co-op members. Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

In St. Francois County, 911 director Alan Wells said several people suffered moderate injuries from wind damage at their homes. Roofs were torn off of many homes and businesses. A tractor-trailer overturned on U.S. 67 near Park Hills.

Wind wasn't the only problem. Many parts of Missouri received 3 inches of rain or more. Flash flooding forced authorities to rescue several people from cars and homes in St. Francois County. Downed trees and flash flooding also closed roads from Springfield through Cape Girardeau.

In Joplin, strong winds toppled a big section of KSNF-TV's tower shortly after 7 a.m., crushing a vehicle and damaging two homes. It appeared no one was hurt.

In Kentucky, one person was killed after a strong thunderstorm moved through the central part of the state, an emergency management official said. Details about the death were unavailable late Friday.

Winds destroyed several homes in Madison County, said Michael Bryant, the county's assistant deputy emergency management director.

The county has declared a state of emergency and Kentucky national guard troops were en route to help with the aftermath, he said. Officials were still assessing the damage Friday evening.

Elsewhere in Kentucky, flash flooding was reported in several counties as several inches of rain fell across the state during the day on ground that was already saturated.

In Louisville, the weather service reported 1 to 2 inches of rain had fallen over the metro area.

Churchill Downs suspended the last five races of the day due to heavy showers and thunderstorms, saying in a news release it was just the third cancellation of its kind in the last 19 years.

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Associated Press writers Cheryl Wittenauer, Heather Hollingsworth, Jim Suhr, Ashley M. Heher, Carla K. Johnson and Tammy Webber contributed to this report.