At least two people have been killed in a powerful storm system that knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses and caused widespread damage in north Arkansas, officials said.
Brandon Morris, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said one person was killed when a tree fell on a van in the community of Black Rock in Lawrence County.
Craighead County Coroner Toby Emerson said one person was killed on Walnut Street in Jonesboro when a tree fell on his home and crushed him. Emerson identified the man as retired Jonesboro police officer Tom Sanford.
Morris said there was "widespread damage" across Lawrence, Jackson, Craighead and other counties in northern and northeast Arkansas.
In Swifton in Jackson County there was a report of weather-related damage to the fire station and city hall. And at the Jonesboro Regional Airport, the winds blew a Cessna plane 30 feet into the air before coming down and landing on its top, Twitter user @JoshDMartin reported.
"Insane wind," he wrote in the post.
Arkansas State Police also said that a train derailed near the Poinsett and Craighead county line. Spokesman Bill Sadler said the winds caused an unknown number of train cars to overturn on U.S. 49. The train was moving at the time of the accident, but no injuries were immediately reported from the derailment.
“There were approximately 30 shipping containers that spilled out of the train cars into the roadway,” Sadler said.
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department reported on its Twitter account that section five of U.S. 49 is closed as a result of the derailment.
The storm was dropping quarter-sized hail and whipping up winds in excess of 60 mph, according to National Weather Service Doppler radar.
Thousands of Arkansans lost power because of the storms. Entergy Arkansas reported after 2 p.m. that 26,894 of its customers were in the dark, with most of them in Mississippi, Craighead, Poinsett, Jackson and Independence counties. North Arkansas Electric Cooperative reported 4,045 customers without power at 2 p.m., down from 6,600 outages at 1 p.m.
In the Cash area, strong winds broke power lines in the area of Arkansas 18 and Arkansas 226, the Jonesboro Police Department said Thursday afternoon.
At Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, several trees on campus were felled in the storm, and officials advised residents to move to the ground level of a building or to take shelter.
Bill Smith, the university's marketing director, said classes were canceled for the remainder of Thursday and all day Friday. Web-assisted and online classes are continuing as normal, as the campus servers are still functional, Smith said. A statement on the university’s website said canceling classes would allow officials to “continue to respond to the storm damage" and "give employees time to manage their personal situations.”
The National Weather Service in Little Rock said that thunderstorms wind gusts were measured at 51 mph at the Newport airport.
"If these storms hold together as expected, we will see quite a few reports of damaging winds," Robinson said earlier Thursday. "There could also be some large hail and isolated tornadoes."
Severe weather is expected again Friday for all but the southwest and south-central parts of the state, and Saturday over north and central Arkansas.
Robinson said rain totals through Saturday night will average 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 inches over the northern half of Arkansas and will rise to 2 to 4 inches in some spots.
The best chances of severe weather in Arkansas "will be north of a line from Marianna to Conway to Van Buren," National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Robinson said in an email earlier Thursday morning.
The Storm Prediction Center placed northern Arkansas under a moderate risk of severe weather Thursday, along with southern Missouri, western Tennessee, northeast Oklahoma and southeast Kansas.
Information for this article was contributed by Katie Doherty, Gavin Lesnick and Lisa Burnett of Arkansas Online and by The Associated Press.