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Tornado kills 3 in Arkansas

A TORNADO struck a small town in Arkansas in the United States on Thursday night, killing three people, injuring at least 24 and seriously damaging about 100 homes.

Mena, near the Oklahoma state line, suffered a direct hit that destroyed at least 10 businesses, including city hall and two churches, Polk County emergency coordinator James Reeves said.

"One manufacturing plant is gone," he said. "It took a direct hit. It's no longer there."

The National Weather Service said a woman was injured at Shreveport, Louisiana, when a tree fell onto her car during a tornado. Twisters also damaged homes east of Vinita and near Muse in Oklahoma and at Crossett in far southern Arkansas, near the Louisiana line.

At Mena, one of the victims killed in the storm was found in a collapsed house, one in a Masonic lodge, and another was found in her front yard, Reeves said. The identities of the two women and a man have not been released.

The 24 injured people were being treated at Mena Medical Center. The devastated downtown area was being protected by National Guard troops dispatched by Governor Mike Beebe.

A curfew was in effect as emergency crews dealt with ruptured gas lines, downed power lines, fallen trees and heavily damaged buildings. Reeves said he had never seen a storm like this hit the tornado-prone region.

"Not in my life time," he said. "The last tornado we had to hit the city of Mena was in November 1993. This time we had significant structures (hit)."

Officials described a chaotic scene on Thursday night as the tornado struck, part of a line of severe storms that strafed Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

The National Weather Service reported that 8-centimeter hail - forecasters described it as apple-sized - fell south of Mena just before the tornado hit downtown.


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