By Timothy Ghianni
NASHVILLE Tenn. (Reuters) - High winds and flash flooding on Thursday in the south-central United States killed three people in Arkansas and Tennessee, derailed a train in Arkansas and blew off part of a motel roof in a Missouri tourist town, officials said.
Trees toppled by strong winds killed two people in northern Arkansas on Thursday afternoon, officials said. In Black Rock, Arkansas, a tree fell on a van and killed the person inside, said Brandon Morris, a spokesman for the state's Department of Emergency Management.
In Jonesboro in Craighead County, Arkansas, retired Jonesboro police officer Tom Sanford, 74, was killed when a tree fell on his home, Jonesboro Police Sergeant Doug Formon said.
"It was the hardest wind blowing I've ever seen in my life," Formon said of straight-line winds peaking at 80 mph (130 kph).
Also in Craighead County, wind blew 15 to 20 rail cars off the tracks onto U.S. Route 49, Morris said.
In Lawrence County in southern Tennessee, a 72-year-old man died when he tried to drive his car over a flooded road, according to a Tennessee Highway Patrol report. The car was swept downstream and submerged under water, the report said.
Up to 8 inches (20 cm) of rain fell overnight and through the morning in that area, said National Weather Service meteorologist Angie Lese in Nashville. The same section of the state was “under the gun” with a threat of more storms into Thursday night, she said.
The NWS website said widespread damaging winds, large hail and a couple of tornadoes were possible on Thursday afternoon and evening from the mid-South to northern Georgia and that storms could hit the central and southern Plains and mid-Atlantic states.
High winds on Thursday morning tore open the roof over some rooms at the Greenbrier Inn in the tourist town of Branson, Missouri, Branson Fire Chief Ted Martin said. Guests in the rooms got wet from heavy rain, but no injuries were reported, he said.
“It was pretty spooky for them for a while,” Martin said.
Branson is an entertainment, shopping and recreational attraction with dozens of hotels. The storm toppled trees and caused at least one car accident in Branson but no serious damage or injuries, said a city news release.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City and Mary Wisniewski in Chicago; Editing by Peter Cooney)