MENA, Ark. (AP) - The sirens sounded three times across Mena last night, and residents watched several funnel clouds pass harmlessly over town. The fourth siren was for another twister that ended up being a killer.
While many took cover immediately in the basement of the county courthouse, others stayed home, only to glance out their windows just in time to see the black funnel descend on the community just east of the Oklahoma line. At least three people were killed, at least 30 others injured and 600 homes were damaged or destroyed.
Polk County Sheriff Mike Oglesby says the tornado seemed to pop out of nowhere.
The tornado was part of a line of storms that continued wreaking havoc in the South on Friday. The National Weather Service said a tornado destroyed two homes in southwestern Kentucky, and authorities near Nashville, Tenn., said multiple tornado touchdowns were reported.
Oglesby said search & rescue teams had combed through the city's downtown and a neighborhood just west that sustained the brunt of the storm without finding any other victims. The sheriff said he had no reports of anyone else missing in the city of 5,700 in the Ouachita Mountains.
Weather service forecaster John Robinson says an initial survey of the damage suggests the tornado packed winds of at least 136 mph.
Basic tornado safety rules call for people, when warned, to go to the lowest floor in a building and put as many walls as possible between themselves and outside.
A warning was posted at 7:24 p.m. Thursday night for areas north of Mena and another one went up for the community at 8:01 p.m. - nine minutes before it hit. The reason for four separate sirens wasn't immediately clear, but Robinson said some communities cannot run their sirens continuously because their motors will burn up.
The twice-monthly meeting of the Mena's chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star had been going on uninterrupted, the 19 people inside only faintly hearing the sirens through the building's cinderblock walls.
Attendee Thurman Allen says they were ready to get out of the building when the twister hit.
The storm tore down the Masonic hall's walls, collapsing the roof on one woman, killing her.
The winds pulled the shoes off the women who were at the meeting.
Emergency Coordinattor James Reeves says others killed in the Mena storm were found in a collapsed house and in a front yard.
The storm also took out numerous businesses and but through the city's industrial park.