Toll Tallied From Midwest Twisters

HARRISBURG, Ill. (AP) — Caught in a relatively uncommon night-time twister yesterday, six people were killed when blocks of homes in Harrisburg, Ill., were flattened by overnight storms that raked the nation’s midsection, killing at least 12 people in three states.

In southern Missouri, one person was killed in a Buffalo trailer park while two more fatalities were reported in the Cassville and Puxico areas. A tornado hopscotched through the main thoroughfare of Missouri country music mecca Branson, damaging some of the city’s famous theaters just days before the start of the town’s crucial tourist season.

Three people were reported killed in eastern Tennessee — two in Cumberland County and another in DeKalb County.

And in Kansas, much of tiny Harveyville was in shambles from what state officials said was an EF2 tornado packing wind speeds of 120 to 130 mph.

At least 16 tornados were reported from Nebraska and Kansas across southern Missouri to Illinois and Kentucky, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., an arm of the National Weather Service.

In Harrisburg, which has a rich coal-mining history, Mayor Eric Gregg called the tornado strike "heartbreaking." The National Weather Service preliminarily listed the tornado as an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said the tornado was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph.

Adding to the danger, it hit as many slept — a timing research meteorologist Harold Brooks called unusual but "not completely uncommon."

Brooks, with the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., said perhaps 10 percent of tornadoes happen between midnight and 6 a.m., a time when the danger level rises because the storms are harder to spot and it’s harder to get the word out.

"If you’re asleep, you’re less likely going to hear anything, any warning message on the danger," Brooks said.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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