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Death toll rises to 7 in Midwest storms

By the CNN Wire Staff
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'Everything we owned is gone'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Missouri's governor declares a state of emergency
  • Red Cross begins recovery help, preps for more damage
  • Resident recalls being thrown from house
  • National Weather Service issues more tornado watches Saturday

Sunset Hills, Missouri (CNN) -- An orange X was painted on homes destroyed in a Missouri town during a series of fast-moving Midwest and Southern storms that left at least seven people dead, dozens injured and even more without a home.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Saturday toured a neighborhood in Sunset Hills, a St. Louis suburb.

"The devastation in this neighborhood was complete," Nixon said. "Many of the houses we saw that were standing had the orange X on them, which means they're going to knock them down, not even try and repair them. Bottom line (is) significant property loss."

Residents from Mississippi to Missouri spent the first day of the New Year assessing the damage and sifting through piles of debris.

Three people died in the small northwestern Arkansas town of Cincinnati, which reported power outages after the strong storm went through, said Ann Upton, Washington County's emergency management deputy.

Two additional fatalities occurred in a trailer in Dent County, Missouri, according to Mike O'Connell of the state department of public safety.

The storm also struck a trailer near Rolla, Missouri, about 106 miles southwest of St. Louis, according to the governor's office. One person died Friday and a second occupant, an 80-year-old woman, died of her injures Saturday, O'Connell said.

The storm injured residents and destroyed some 25 homes in Phelps County, home to Rolla, after it earlier left more than a dozen people hospitalized in northwestern Arkansas, medical officials said.

"As soon as I shut the door everything started rumbling underneath me," Rolla resident Jason Stevenson told CNN affiliate KPLR. "The whole house looked like it imploded. I got picked up and down at least three times I know of before I come to a slamming halt up against a small little tree in front of the house."

Michael Spencer, a relief worker with the American Red Cross, said some residents in Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi already were working on their recovery plan.

"It's been just a little bit over 24 hours and families are just beginning to pick up the pieces of their lives again," Spencer said Saturday from Cincinnati, Arkansas. "The roads are littered with power lines, there's tons of debris in fences and trees," he said, but residents are making their way to shelters to get and offer assistance.

More than 30 people were gathered at the Central United Methodist Church of Cincinnati on Saturday morning to meet with Red Cross workers, Spencer said. Similar efforts are under way in Missouri and Mississippi, he said.

Gallery: Aftermath of midwest storms
Deadly tornado strikes Arkansas
Deadly storm hits Arkansas
Minor injuries, no deaths from tornado
RELATED TOPICS
  • Weather
  • Arkansas
  • Missouri

As those states began recovery, forecasters warned of more potentially severe weather elsewhere. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for eight counties in Alabama and three counties in Florida on Saturday. The watch extends to 5 p.m. CST.

"Unfortunately, this storm system is not letting up and we are dispatching additional Red Cross teams as the storms continue to plow across the country," Spencer said.

In Arkansas, six homes and four chicken production facilities were destroyed, while five homes suffered moderate to heavy damage, said Matt Garrity, Benton County's manager of emergency services.

A fire station, three buildings and one store were also damaged, said Garrity, and an airport that serves northwestern Arkansas was closed due to debris in the area.

"We are in part of tornado alley," he said. "So even a small storm does a lot of damage."

In Mississippi, the storm system knocked out power to nearly 20,000 homes in the central part of the state, said Mara Hartman, a spokeswoman for Entergy Corporation.

Elsewhere, the storm caused injuries and damage in Pulaski and Laclede counties in Missouri, knocking out power at Fort Leonard Wood, a U.S. Army post that took a direct hit from a suspected tornado, according to Laclede County Emergency Management spokesman Gail Teter.

Four people at the base were treated for minor injuries after the storm hit, the army said. The tornado cut through several miles from the training areas into where families live.

CNN affiliate KMOV on Friday broadcast images of heavy damage -- including destroyed homes and overturned vehicles -- in Sunset Hills, about 15 miles southwest of St. Louis.

"It's causing havoc," said Sunset Hills police spokeswoman Donna Palasky.

Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri Saturday and toured a neighborhood where a suspected F-3 tornado struck, though there were no serious injuries.

"One young family, two young adults and a 9-year-old, scurried into their basement and hid in a cubbyhole and their entire house was blown away," he told CNN. "If they hadn't gone down there they certainly would have had very serious injuries, if not death."

The storm also left heavy structural damage to buildings in its wake -- including a popular shopping center and Catholic church -- in the town of Fenton, some 18 miles southwest of St. Louis, said Fenton Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Heidbreder.

In the nearby town of Ballwin, police spokesman Jim Heldmann said the storm caused heavy damage to homes and buildings, but no injuries were reported.

CNN's David Ariosto, Mark Bixler, Reynolds Wolf, Tom Laabs, Erica Henry, Aaron Cooper and CNN Radio's Shelby Lin Erdman contributed to this report