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'Chaos' reigns as deadly tornadoes slam several states, risk for severe weather continues

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Digital writers

Monday, April 28, 2014, 4:15 PM -

A brutal band of severe weather battered the central Plains and mid-South late Sunday, killing at least 18 people in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma. Some of the worst damage was north of Little Rock, Arkansas, where reported tornadoes devastated the towns of Mayflower and Vilonia.

"It's chaos here," said Vilonia Mayor James Firestone. "Our downtown area seems like it's completely leveled."

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The nightmare is all too familiar for the community of about 3,800 people. Another storm ransacked the town almost three years ago to the day and followed essentially the same path, the mayor said.

"There's a few buildings partially standing, but the amount of damage is tremendous," Firestone said Sunday. "There's gas lines spewing. Of course, power lines down. Houses are just a pile of brick."

More misery

It was much the same in the neighboring Mayflower, a town of 1,600 about 32 km to the southwest.

Authorities shut down a section of Interstate 40 after a tornado "as much as a half-mile wide" roared through the area, according to the National Weather Service.

The well-traveled roadway was littered with crushed and overturned trucks and cars.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, who was in Mayflower, estimated the winds from the storm at 200-240 km/h.

Emergency workers tended to the scene throughout the night. Shelters were set up at the high school and at a local church.

The city's official website said schools would be closed on Monday.

Ten deaths were reported in Faulkner County, where Mayflower and Vilonia are located, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management said. The agency confirmed five additional deaths in Pulaski County and another death in White County.

More than 100 were treated at various hospitals in the state.

'Tell the public to stay away'

Before slamming into Arkansas, witnesses spotted a twister in the northeast Oklahoma town of Quapaw, where one person died, the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office said.

Joe Dan Morgan, the county's emergency manager, said rescuers were working in an area where a concrete wall crashed onto a car.

There were other reports of damage in the community, stretching thin local resources.

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"Search and rescue is under way involving several agencies," county emergency dispatcher Kelly Flecks said. "Please tell the public to stay away so they can do their jobs. We can't confirm anything else at the moment."

Quapaw is located near the border with Kansas and Missouri.

The same line of storms hit Baxter Springs, Kansas, just a few kilometres to the north.

Sixty to 70 homes and at least 20 businesses were reported destroyed, said Cherokee County emergency manager Jason Allison.

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A tornado estimated to be three blocks wide rumbled through the town of 4,200, he said.

The risk for more severe storms, including the threat for tornadoes, continues on Monday.

"Alabama and Mississippi look to have the greatest threat for severe thunderstorms," says Weather Network meteorologist Brian Dillon.

"An outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes is expected to continue through at least Tuesday as a potent storm system slowly pushes east across the nation," adds "Locations from the Plains into the Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley and parts of the South could see severe storms and tornadoes on one or multiple days. In addition, flooding rainfall will also be a serious threat."

DRAMATIC PHOTOS: Tornado devastation across the U.S. Midwest and South

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