JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A relentless barrage of violent weather in the central United States left three people dead on Thursday, local media said, as tornadoes raked across southwest Missouri and devastated the state capital, and heavy rain flooded rivers in Oklahoma.
The reported casualties from the tornadoes, which struck Missouri in the middle of the night, brought the week’s weather-related death toll in the region to at least seven, as forecasters said the rain and threat of damaging winds were expected to continue.
“It looks to stay quite wet over the next week across the central portion of the country,” said meteorologist Mark Chenard of the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
A system of showers stretching from the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma north to Nebraska were to bring flooding risks on Thursday, Chenard said. A somewhat diminished threat of tornadoes will persist from the Texas Panhandle through Kansas, he added.
The weather service’s St. Louis office confirmed tornadoes touched down near Joplin, Missouri, late Wednesday, and local media, including the Joplin Globe, reported at least three dead.
In Jefferson City, the state capital, officials said a “massive” twister caused widespread damage to buildings, trees, cars and power lines, but no fatalities.
“Many, many buildings have significant damage, and there’s a lot of them that just have small damage as well, so it’s just very widespread,” Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin told CNN.
Jefferson City’s Riley Chevrolet and Toyota said it “took a direct hit” from a tornado. Photos from the dealership showed heavy damage and its cars stacked up like discarded toys. “Riley Chevrolet and Riley Toyota will be closed to all public and employees until further notice. Our prayers are with Jefferson City and surrounding towns through this time.”
Missouri Governor Mark Parson said at least 20 people were treated at hospitals for injuries, most of them released shortly thereafter, and praised the city’s tornado warning system.
“That’s why we didn’t have any fatalities in Jefferson City last night, why we didn’t have more injuries,” Parson said on CNN.
Weather forecasters expect the region to get another two inches (5 cm) of rain through Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said his heart went out to the people of Missouri as they assessed the damage. “You are strong and resilient, and we are here to assist,” he wrote on Twitter.
Trump also urged Oklahomans to stay safe and listen to the warnings of local officials. “We are with you!” he tweeted.
Earlier this week, a tornado killed at least one person in Iowa, while two people in Oklahoma were killed in accidents on rain-slicked roads and another died in flooding, which continues to threaten many parts of the state.
The Arkansas River-front town of Webbers Falls was ordered evacuated on Thursday, while residents of several other rain-swollen riverfront communities were advised to leave, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Caine said by phone.
Rainfall in the coming days is predicted to be about 2 inches (5 cm) across eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and into western Missouri, with localized spots getting up to 5 inches (13 cm), forecasters said. (Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Tom Brown)