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Spring storms pound Oklahoma, killing at least eight

EL RENO, Okla. (AP) — Violent storms that swept through a chunk of the central U.S. killed at least nine people in three states, toppling trees, crushing cars and tearing through a rural Arkansas fire station.

The high-powered storms arrived as forecast Tuesday night and early Wednesday, just days after a massive tornado tore through the southwest Missouri town of Joplin and killed 122 people. After killing two people in Kansas and five in Oklahoma, they continued their trek east into Arkansas before petering out.

At least two people died as the storms ripped through Arkansas' Franklin and Johnson counties, the state's Department of Emergency Management spokesman Tommy Jackson said. One person died after a tornado ripped the tiny western Arkansas community of Denning shortly after midnight Wednesday. Another person died in an area called Bethlehem, in Johnson County.

Emergency officials had accounted for everyone else in Bethlehem, said county emergency management director Josh Johnston. Crews were working through the night in the hopes of saying the same thing for other communities.

Just outside Denning, winery owner Eugene Post listened to the tornado from his porch. He saw the lights flicker, as the storms yanked power from the community.

"I didn't see anything," Post, 83, said early Wednesday. "I could hear it real loud though. ... It sounded like a train — or two or three — going by."

A number of people were injured in both Franklin and Johnson counties, though officials weren't sure exactly how many. A rural fire station in Franklin County was left without a roof as emergency workers rushed to the wounded. Downed trees and power lines tossed across roadways also slowed search-and-rescue crews' efforts.

Hours earlier, several tornadoes struck Oklahoma City and its suburbs during the Tuesday night rush hour, killing at least five people and injuring at least 60 others, including three children who were in critical condition, authorities said.

Some residents said they had been warned about the impending weather for days and were watching television or listening to the radio so they would know when to take cover.

"We live in Oklahoma and we don't mess around," Lori Jenkins said. "We kept an eye on the weather and knew it was getting close."

She took refuge with her husband and two children in a neighbor's storm shelter in the Oklahoma City suburb of Guthrie. When they emerged, they discovered their carport had been destroyed and the back of their home was damaged.

Chris Pyle was stunned as he pulled into the suburban neighborhood near Piedmont where he lived as a teenager. His parents' home was destroyed, but the house next door had only a few damaged shingles.

"That's when it started sinking in," he said. "You don't know what to think. There are lots of memories, going through the trash tonight, finding old trophies and pictures."

His parents, Fred and Snow Pyle, rode out the storm in a shelter at a nearby school.

Cherokee Ballard, a spokeswoman for the state medical examiner, said four people died west of Oklahoma City in Canadian County, where a weather-monitoring site in El Reno recorded 151 mph winds.

At Chickasha, 25 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, a 26-year-old woman died when a tornado hit a mobile home park where residents had been asked to evacuate their trailers, Assistant Police Chief Elip Moore said. He said a dozen people were injured and that hundreds were displaced when the storm splintered their homes.

In Kansas, police said two people died when high winds threw a tree into their van around 6 p.m. near the small town of St. John, about 100 miles west of Wichita. The highway was shut down because of storm damage.

The path of the storms included Joplin, which is cleaning up from a Sunday storm that was the nation's eighth-deadliest twister among records dating to 1840. Late-night tornado sirens had Joplin's residents ducking for cover again before the storm brushed past without serious problems.

The storms also blew through North Texas, but the damage seemed to be confined to roofs and trees and lawn furniture and play equipment.

"The hail was probably more destructive," said Steve Fano, National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth.

___

Associated Press Writers Jeannie Nuss in Little Rock, Ark., Terry Wallace in Dallas and Dana Fields in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.

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