JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A "violent tornado" touched down in Jefferson City, causing heavy damage in Missouri's capital city as severe weather swept across the state overnight, causing three deaths and leaving many people trapped in the wreckage of their homes.
The service reported that a "confirmed large and destructive tornado" was observed over Jefferson City at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday, moving northeast at 40 mph (64 kph). The capital city has a population of about 40,000 and is located about 130 miles (209 kilometers) west of St. Louis.
"Across the state, Missouri's first responders once again responded quickly and with strong coordination as much of the state dealt with extremely dangerous conditions that left people injured, trapped in homes, and tragically led to the death of three people," Governor Mike Parson said. "I want our responders and all the neighbors who acted selflessly to help their neighbors to know how much their heroic efforts are appreciated by all Missourians."
Missouri Public Safety confirmed in a tweet that three people were killed in the Golden City area of Barton County, and several injured in the Carl Junction area of Jasper County
Jefferson City Police Lt. David Williams said around 2:15 a.m. Thursday that there were no reports of fatalities in the capital, but authorities had received multiple calls of people being trapped in homes. The tornado hit during a week that has seen several days of tornadoes and torrential rains in parts of the Southern Plains and Midwest.
"It's a chaotic situation right now," Williams said.
Williams spoke from the Cole County Sheriff's office, where debris including insulation, roofing shingles and metal pieces lay on the ground outside the front doors.
Area hospitals did not see an immediate influx of patients but set up command centers in case the need arises.
"We have four patients with minor injuries," said Jessica Royston, spokeswoman at St. Mary's Health Center.
Power outages were reported in parts of the city.
Missouri Public Safety tweeted that there was a possibility of more tornadoes and flash flooding.
Austin Thomson, 25, was in the laundry room of his apartment complex to do his wash and noticed the wind started picking up. He saw sheets of rain coming down and a flagpole bend and then slam to the ground. The windows broke and he dove behind the washers and dryers.
After it calmed down, he walked outside to check the damage.
"There's basically one building that's basically one story now. Every building there is two stories."
The National Weather Service said it had received 22 reports of tornadoes by late Wednesday, although some of those could be duplicate reporting of the same twister.
One tornado skirted just a few miles north of Joplin, Missouri, on the eighth anniversary of a catastrophic tornado that killed 161 people in the city. The tornado caused some damage in the town of Carl Junction, about 4 miles (6.44 kilometers) north of the Joplin airport.
Storms and torrential rains have ravaged the Midwest, from Texas through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.
Two barges broke loose and floated swiftly down the swollen Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma on Wednesday, spreading alarm downstream as they threatened to hit a dam.
Authorities urged residents of several small towns in Oklahoma and Kansas to leave their homes as rivers and streams rose.
The Arkansas River town of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, was one such town. Town officials ordered a mandatory evacuation Wednesday afternoon because of the river's rising level.
But Wednesday evening, a posting on the town's official Facebook page sounded the alarm about the runaway barges for its 600 residents: "Evacuate Webbers Falls immediately. The barges are loose and has the potential to hit the lock and dam 16. If the dam breaks, it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!"
There was no word by midnight Wednesday where the barges were on the river, but local television stations showing live video of the river and the lock and dam said they had not yet arrived.
The Arkansas River was approaching historic highs, while the already high Missouri and Mississippi Rivers were again rising after a multi-day stretch of storms that produced dozens of tornadoes. Forecasters predicted parts of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas could see more severe weather on Thursday.
Deaths from this week's storms include a 74-year-old woman found early Wednesday morning in Iowa. Officials there say she was killed by a possible tornado that damaged a farmstead in Adair County. Missouri authorities said heavy rain was a contributing factor in the deaths of two people in a traffic accident Tuesday near Springfield.
A fourth weather-related death may have occurred in Oklahoma, where the Highway Patrol said a woman apparently drowned after driving around a barricade Tuesday near Perkins, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma City. The unidentified woman's body was sent to the state medical examiner's office to confirm the cause of death. Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Cain said she isn't yet listed as what would be the state's first storm-related death.