CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Ark. — Powerful spring storms roared through parts of the South on Friday, toppling trees, smashing buildings and killing at least 10 people.
Several tornadoes accompanied the storms, but much of the damage was attributed to straight-line winds — sudden, violent downbursts that struck with hurricane force in the middle of the night.
As the storm howled through Crystal Springs, Eden Davis woke up, grabbed her young child and sat on the edge of the bed waiting to pull a mattress over both of them to shield the pair from flying debris. "I've never been so nervous about a storm," she said.
Forecasters warned of approaching danger as much as three days earlier, but the winds up to 80 mph and repeated lightning strikes cut a path of destruction across a region so accustomed to violent weather that many people ignored the risk — or slept through it.
The storms began late Thursday in Oklahoma, where at least five tornadoes touched down and two people were killed. The system then pushed into Arkansas, killing seven more. Dozens of others were hurt.
By midday Friday, the storms marched into Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi, and later into Georgia and Alabama. One person was killed in Alabama as tornadoes touched down.
Unlike tornadoes, which develop from columns of rotating air, straight-line winds erupt from a thunderstorm in unpredictable downdrafts, then spread across the landscape in all directions.
In Crystal Springs, lightning split a tree that fell into a home, killing an 18-month-old girl and her father as they slept. In Little Rock, winds knocked a tree into a home, killing a woman and her 8-year-old son in his bed.
In the Arkansas town of Bald Knob, a 6-year-old boy died when the top of a tree crashed through his home as he slept.
Arkansas authorities said a 64-year-old woman in St. Francis County was killed in her home, and a man was killed when a tree fell on his recreational vehicle.
The worst damage in Oklahoma was in the small town of Tushka, where a twister damaged or destroyed nearly every home along the two main streets. Two people were killed and at least 25 hurt as the tornado plowed through the town of 350 before dawn.