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Storms rip through Missouri, Arkansas; homes damaged

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A severe storm spawning hail, driving rain and a possible tornado roared through parts of Missouri and Arkansas overnight leaving a trail of damage in its wake, as a broader storm system stretched from Texas to Pennsylvania.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis area where about 25 homes in the suburb of Hazelwood sustained damage from high winds and falling trees.

Winds of 40 to 70 miles per hour were noted through the area, with a gust of 101 miles per hour clocked southwest of St. Louis, according to the National Weather Service.

While the worst of the damage was noted in Missouri and Arkansas, severe weather, including hail and high winds, was reported from northeast Texas through Pennsylvania and into New York, said Bill Bunting, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

"It is a bit unusual this time of year to see it over that broad an area," he said. "It is a fairly strong storm system."

Bunting said it appeared one or more tornadoes may have touched down overnight in Missouri and Arkansas but the swirling winds were not yet confirmed as twisters.

No serious injuries were reported in Missouri. But in neighboring Arkansas at least four people were taken to the hospital with injuries attributed to the severe weather after an apparent twister tore through a church near the town of Clinton, damaging several buildings and uprooting trees, officials said.

Eight homes and a church were destroyed in the north-central part of Arkansas, officials said, and electricity was knocked out to some 4,000 customers.

Severe thunderstorms were possible for Thursday into Friday for the central and eastern Gulf states into the Carolinas and parts of southern Virginia, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

The storm system has been crawling eastward the last few days, bringing hail, freezing rain and high winds to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas while dumping heavy snow in Colorado and northern states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on Wednesday signed an emergency order allowing the National Guard to call up personnel as needed to provide for recovery and shelter in southern Minnesota, where an ice storm caused widespread power outages.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, David Bailey in Minneapolis and Suzi Parker in Little Rock, Arkansas; Editing by Scott Malone and Bob Burgdorfer)

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