Strong storms hit Arkansas; governor offers aid to Missouri

Monday, May 23, 2011 | 8:17 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Severe storms damaged a health food store in northern Arkansas and knocked out power to hundreds Monday. Gov. Mike Beebe said the state is standing by to help Missouri deal with a storm that killed at least 116 people.

Tornado warnings were posted across Arkansas's northern tier, and damage was reported in Sharp County, though there was no immediate confirmation that a twister had touched down. Crews in Washington County conducted a number of water rescues near West Fork, and forecasters confirmed that a weak tornado occurred on Sunday night in Gentry.

The National Weather Service said there was a moderate risk of severe weather Tuesday in the northwestern corner of the state.

Beebe said Arkansas offered to send medical personnel and police to Joplin, as it recovers from an EF4 that struck the community Sunday evening. Beebe said he offered the aid to Gov. Jay Nixon .

"He was gravely concerned about the entire situation, and ... the impression I got was how catastrophic he thought it was," Beebe said.

Twenty-four Arkansas troopers were standing by to help with security and traffic control in Missouri, and the state's physicians were also ready to go, Beebe said. The Arkansas National Guard was also available to help.

Nixon hadn't asked for any assistance from Arkansas because officials were still trying to assess the damage and figure out what help they need, though he expressed gratitude for the offer, Beebe said at midday.

Beebe said he has received reports that some northwest Arkansas hospitals have taken victims from the storm. Beebe said he expects the reports of damage from the tornado to get worse as search and rescue efforts continue.

Sharp County Emergency Management Coordinator Gene Moore said high winds blew the roof off the health food store and may have damaged a home. Moore also says there are reports of downed trees and power lines. In Fulton County, Jane Ivey of the emergency management office says there have been preliminary reports of damage to some homes.

Entergy Arkansas, the state's largest electric utility, reported that 2,000 homes and businesses were without power Monday afternoon.

In Washington County, emergency crews plucked several people from vehicles after they drove into rising waters.

"Sometimes they think they can drive through it," said Rick Johnson, the deputy director for the county's department of emergency management. "We're going back to our motto: Turn around. Don't drown."

Elsewhere in the county, crews rescued a few people as water surrounded a home near Prairie Grove.

The heavy rains and rising waters forced officials to close more than two dozen roadways, Johnson said.

No injuries were reported in the Arkansas storms.

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