LITTLE ROCK At least seven people have died as a spring tempest with high winds pushed across Arkansas early Friday morning, prompting several tornado warnings and leading to power failures and damage. The same line of storms produced a tornado that killed two sisters in their 70s in Oklahoma.
In Pulaski Couuny, a man was killed when a tree fell on his RV at 25509 River Road. Pulaski County Sheriff's Department Lt. Carl Minden identified that victim as James Loftis, 56.
A fourth Arkansas fatality was reported in Bald Knob, where Police Chief Tim Sanford said a 6-year-old boy was killed after a tree fell on his house.
Police Chief Tim Sanford said the tree was between 6 and 8 feet in diameter and it took more than two hours to get a truck big enough to lift it so they could reach the child.
Sanford said the boy’s parents and a sibling were rescued with minor injuries. The chief said the tree appeared to have been blown down by straight-line winds.
In St. Francis County, Sheriff Bobby May said 64-year-old Lardelah Anderson died when strong winds knocked her double-wide trailer from its moorings in Colt.
May said a strong downburst of wind apparently got under the double-wide mobile home where Anderson and her husband lived, and flipped the home over on its roof. He said Anderson’s husband, 65-year-old Jesse Anderson was injured and taken to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Tenn., where he underwent surgery Friday morning.
Mid-morning, a mother and her child were killed at 9201 Cynthia Street in Little Rock. A tree felled by high winds during the early morning hours still leaned against a red brick home in west Little Rock. Police said the tree fell on a back bedroom where the woman had climbed into bed with her 8-year-old son, but missed an infant sleeping in a crib in another room.
Damage was reported throughout the state as the storms moved eastward in the early morning hours, packing heavy winds, downing trees and power lines and possibly spawning a tornado.
CLOSINGS, BLOCKED ROADS
Four schools in North Little Rock were closed because of the power failures — NLRHS East Campus, Lakewood Middle, Lakewood Elementary and Park Hill Elementary. Four Little Rock schools were also closed due to power failure — Forest Park Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Henderson Middle School, and Hall High.
Two Little Rock schools, Brady Elementary and Felder Academy, will close at 1:30 p.m. because of power failures in the area.
This morning, several roads and highways were blocked because of downed power lines and trees. Little Rock Police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings said several roads were closed and that crews were out to clear the streets as quickly as possible.
Brian Smith, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock, said teams would go out later Friday morning to investigate damage and determine if any tornadoes actually touched down. There were no reports of anyone seeing a tornado doing damage, but there were multiple funnel cloud sightings.
"This has probably been one of the more significant events we've had in awhile," Smith said, adding the overnight timing of the storm system made it particularly dangerous. "A lot of people are caught unaware. Nighttime severe weather events can often be the deadliest."
A tree fell on a house in Hot Springs, trapping the resident inside and trees and power lines were down throughout a number of counties including Pope, Faulkner, Saline, Pulaski, Craighead, Union and Hot Spring, the weather service said. Russellville recorded an 80 mph wind gust and a funnel cloud was spotted at one point heading into Paron.
In Little Rock, where the storms moved through shortly after 2 a.m. amid heavy lightning, hail and wailing tornado sirens, there were reports of one house on fire and multiple gas-line ruptures.
Little Rock Fire Department Capt. Jason Weaver said crews made nearly 60 runs to respond to reports of trees on houses or downed power lines. A house on Mellon Street caught fire when the tree hit the structure and caused a heater to short out.
Matt Gray, who lives at 1020 N. Hughes St. in Little Rock, said he awakened to the sound of tornado sirens and a heavy wind. When the lightning flashed, he saw the force of the storm had tore down a tree in the neighbors yard. By daylight, he discovered a downed power pole and transformer in his backyard.
"I've never heard it blow like that," he said Friday morning as he surveyed the damage outside.
Holly Dunlap, of the 6900 block of Evergreen, said only one of the dozen or so trees that had been in her yard remained standing. One took out the carport, another leveled a fence and several large trees criss-crossed over one another, leaving gaping holes in the ground from where their roots were thrust upward.
None hit the house, although one came within inches of her bedroom window.
"Luckily the main house isn't damaged," she said. "But everything else seems to be. It looks like a war-zone. It's crazy to see the aftermath of it all."
DAMAGE AROUND STATE
In Yell County northeast of Belleville, a trailer house was blown over and destroyed and multiple homes had reports of some damage, according to the weather service. A Frito Lay storage warehouse was reportedly destroyed and one house severely damaged in Mena and a mobile home was blown over at Highways 22 and 41 in Branch.
The weather service teams will likely scour the damage in Mena - where there was one report of bent ironwork in a yard - as well as in Little Rock and Montgomery and Yell counties.
Entergy Arkansas Inc., was reporting about 19,400 power failures, down from a peak of nearly 43,000. Almost 13,000 of those homes, schools and businesses without power were in Pulaski County. Other hard-hit areas were Saline County, with 1,600 customers without power, and Union County, with about 1,000 customers without power.
Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. showing just under 3,000 power failures, according to its website.
No power failures were reported on the Southwestern Electric Power Co. website.
Information for this article was contributed by Arkansas Online staff and The Associated Press.