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Twister leaves 7 dead in Mississippi

Storm system also dumps over a foot of snow in Plains

SHARE Twister leaves 7 dead in Mississippi

PONTOTOC, Miss. — A tornado killed seven people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes around the city as violent storms swept through the region, authorities said Sunday. Dozens were injured.

An 2-year-old boy was killed by a tornado in Arkansas.

The storms struck the region late Saturday, but the full extent of damage in rural northern Mississippi was not known until daylight Sunday.

The twister cut a 23-mile path across Pontotoc County, the National Weather Service said.

The vast storm system that swept across the eastern half of the nation also dumped more than 20 inches of snow on northern Minnesota. Blowing snow closed hundreds of miles of highways in Minnesota and South Dakota.

Pontotoc County Sheriff Leo Mask said his office confirmed two deaths in addition to five people who were dead on arrival at Pontotoc Hospital, including a 10-year-old boy. Mask said it was unlikely the death toll would increase.

In Arkansas, a 2-year-old boy died Sunday of injuries suffered when a twister destroyed the family's home in Fulton County on Saturday. His parents and a brother also were injured, authorities said.

In Pontotoc, Johnny Seale held his wife close as their home was ripped apart around them. They survived, but his 36-year-old son, a sister and a nephew were killed in houses only yards away.

"We had been watching the news and they were predicting . . . that tornadoes were coming through our area, and my son-in-law called us and told us to be aware that it might be in the Randolph (community) area," Seale said in a telephone interview.

"I've seen tornadoes before, but I've never had to walk through the destruction like this time," witness Tommy Wiggins said. "Houses were leveled, trees splintered and people walking around in a daze trying to find their belongings."

Wind damaged 10 to 12 houses in the Benoit area and a few homes in Leflore County. Hail the size of marbles broke windows in the Bolivar County Courthouse, and county officials said wind up to 80 mph destroyed one rural house and ran cars into ditches.

On the colder side of the storm, about 260 miles of Interstate 90

was closed overnight until Sunday afternoon from Chamberlain, S.D., east to Blue Earth, Minn. Stretches of I-94 in Minnesota and North Dakota and parts of I-35 in southern Minnesota and Iowa also were closed, authorities said.

Minnesota's highway department closed all state highways in seven southwestern counties because snowplows couldn't keep up with the drifting snow. "We're just losing ground all around," said Renard Fritz, Minnesota State Patrol dispatcher in Detroit Lakes.

Northeastern Minnesota collected more than 20 inches of snow, including 23.5 at Finland.

South Dakota authorities reopened segments of I-90 Sunday afternoon as crews plowed out drifts and removed stalled vehicles.

"We had troopers hauling people from stalled vehicles all through the night, and we had several semis blocking the highway," said Highway Patrol Sgt. Curtis Blasy.

Three traffic deaths were blamed on the storm in Minnesota and Nebraska.

Wind gusting to 58 mph in Wisconsin knocked out power to some 9,000 customers in the southeastern part of the state Sunday, Wisconsin Energy reported.

In Huron, S.D., which has received more than 5 feet of snow this winter, crews are running out of room to pile the snow.

"The boulevard in front of my house is 5 feet high," city manager Ralph Borkowski said. "The street department guys just can't get the snow up there anymore. They roll it up, and it rolls back into the street. Our streets are getting narrower."