In Mena, Ark., the small town near the Oklahoma border and 140 miles west of Little Rock, one of the victims killed in the storm was found in a collapsed house, one in a masonic lodge and another in her front yard. The identities of the two women and a man have not been released.
Gov. Beebe dispatched National Guard troops to protect the town and issued a curfew to allow emergency crews to begin dealing with ruptured gas lines, downed power lines, fallen trees and heavily damaged buildings.
Polk County emergency coordinator James Reeves said he had never seen a storm like this hit the tornado-prone region.
"Not in my lifetime," he said. "The last tornado we had to hit the city of Mena was in November 1993. This time we had significant structures [hit]."
The National Weather Service reported that 3-inch-diameter hail -- forecasters described it as apple-size -- fell south of Mena just before the tornado hit downtown. Tornado damage was also reported at Ink, five miles east of Mena.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.