Thursday night, three people were killed, at least two dozen people were injured and a swath of homes and businesses -- even City Hall -- were destroyed when a tornado ripped through Mena, Ark..
The severe weather persisted today, as a storm system moved across the Southeast. A reported tornado in central Tennessee killed two people and injured 41, officials with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency told the Associated Press.
Dispatchers at the Rutherford County Emergency Management Agency in Tennessee said the area has been "heavily impacted" after several eyewitness reports of a tornado on the ground, the Associated Press said.
A tornadoe also touched down in southwestern Kentucky. Several people were reported hospitalized in the area, while two people were reportedly injured after a tornado destroyed their mobile home.
In Mena, Ark., Roger Susanin, a reporter for KATV in Little Rock, said the downtown area has been "devastated."
"It came out at about 8:30 [p.m.]," he said. "People had described it like a bomb."
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said he was taken aback by the scope of the damage from the tornado that ripped through Mena.
Speaking to reporters shortly after landing in a National Guard helicopter, Beebe said the damage appeared to him to be greater than initial estimates, the Associated Press reported.
Warning sirens sounded three times as several funnel clouds passed harmlessly over the town before the killer twister landed. Although many immediately took cover, others stayed home, only to glance out their windows just in time to see the tornado, according to the AP.
"This one popped out of nowhere," Polk County Sheriff Mike Oglesby said.
Susanin said car windows shattered as the forceful winds blew through town. Gas and power lines were broken, preventing police from being able to search in some parts of town.
Residents, he said, got some warning but it didn't seem to make much of a difference.
"There were sirens that went off," Susanin said. "There were some tornado warnings earlier in the night, but it was not supposed to hit ground level. No one really had too much time to shutter their homes."
Tornado survivor Richard Bagwell told "Good Morning America" in a phone interview today that when the tornado headed straight for his house, he threw blankets over his wife and 13-year-old son to shield them.
"We started scrambling, you know, picking up things that we knew we were going to need," he said. "I did the best I could to cover them up.
"The house was just vibrating and rocking," Bagwell said, describing the wind as "unreal. There was debris flying everywhere."
When the tornado moved on, Bagwell said his family began to assess the damage and it was major.
The first thing they noticed was that their roof was gone. The house, he said, was totally destroyed.
But they are still there, camping out in their home, "watching the stars and listening to the wind blow," Bagwell said.
Direct Hit for Arkansas Town Kills Three
In all, the storm system spawned 24 tornados across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
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.