A ferocious storm system threatens tens of millions of people across the Southeast Monday, a day after tornados ripped through the South, killing at least 17 people — 15 in Arkansas, one in Oklahoma and one in Iowa — and leaving a trail of destruction, officials said.
The death toll was initially reported as 18 because Pulaski County in Arkansas mistakenly reported that five people had died. The county told Al Jazeera it revised the count to three.
The same storm system is expected to remain active through Wednesday, with the National Weather Service's (NWS) Storm Prediction Center saying more storms were expected Monday in the South. Harold Brooks, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory, told Al Jazeera the areas at highest risk on Monday include central Mississippi through central Tennessee and northwestern Alabama.
In Mississipi, officials said up to seven people died Monday after 12 tornadoes touched down across the state. One woman died when her car either hydroplaned or blew off a road during the storm in Verona, south of Tupelo.
On Monday, in the City of Athens, Alabama, spokeswoman Holly Hollman said Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakeley reported two deaths at a mobile home park. Further sourtheast of the city, the Associated Press reported Monday four people died from the impact of the storm.
On Sunday night, the Arkansas twister shredded cars, trucks and 18-wheelers on Interstate 40 north of Little Rock. Hardest in the state were the Little Rock suburbs of Mayflower and Vilonia.
"We have seen a lot of property damage across this area," Brandon Morris, of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, told Al Jazeera.
Nine of the victims came from the same street in Vilonia, with a population of about 4,100.
A new intermediate school set to open in August was heavily damaged by a tractor trailer blown into its roof. And a steel farm shop anchored to concrete was erased from the landscape.
"Everything is just leveled to the ground," Vilonia resident Matt Rothacher told Reuters. "It cut a zig-zag right through town."
The NWS's North Little Rock office said it was certain that the Mayflower and Vilonia storm would be rated as the nation's strongest twister so far this year.
"It has the potential to be EF3 or greater," said meteorologist Jeff Hood, referring to winds greater than 136 mph. "Based on some of the footage we've seen from Mayflower and where it crossed Interstate 40, things were wrecked in a very significant way."
Before Sunday, the country had not had a tornado rated EF3 or higher since Nov. 17, a streak of 160 days, the fourth longest on record. Also, that was the latest date for the first storm of a season rated EF3 or higher since 1950, Brooks said.
The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to sift through the wreckage, as Governor Mike Beebe declared a state of disaster for Faulkner and two other counties.
President Barack Obama sent his condolences to those affected by the deadly storms while speaking at a news conference in the Philippines on Monday. He reassured those in the affected areas that the federal government was on the ground to help deal with the situation.
“Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild, as long as it takes,” he said.
The American Red Cross in central Oklahoma said it was deploying two emergency response vehicles and at least four volunteers to help with tornado recovery efforts in Arkansas. Morris said that Arkansas officials had set up 70 shelters in the affected areas.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, meanwhile, declared a state of emergency for four counties where tornadoes hit on Friday and warned that more rough weather was on the way.
A tornado in Baxter Springs, Kansas that touched down on Sunday evening also destroyed as many as 70 homes and 25 businesses and injured 34 people, of whom nine were hospitalized, state and county officials said. One person was killed in Kansas, likely due to the same storm system, officials said.
Sunday was the third anniversary of a day that saw 122 tornadoes strike parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, killing 316 people.
Philip J. Victor contributed to this report, with Al Jazeera and The Associated Press