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Violent winds batter southern Plains

Lightning sparks deadly Ark. fire; many lose power

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Storms moving across the southern Plains yesterday brought winds strong enough to rip off roofs and blow apart barns. Thousands of people lost power in Arkansas, and a fire triggered by lightning killed a man.

Southern Oklahoma had baseball-size hail and surrounding states saw heavy rain as the front moved east across the Mississippi River. In Mississippi, winds reached 80 miles per hour, and schoolchildren were sent home early in case hurricane-weakened trees fell.

Around Little Rock, the high wind caused a mobile home to overturn and damaged about a dozen other homes, and trees and power lines were down around the state. Road signs were reported bent in Johnson County, in northwestern Arkansas.

About 7,600 homes and businesses lost electricity when power lines were hit by trees or other power lines, and the wind kept workers from making immediate repairs.

''It's kind of like a yo-yo out there," Entergy Arkansas spokesman James Thompson said.

In the southwestern town of Ashdown, an 83-year-old municipal councilman died after lightning struck his house and started a fire. His wife was injured.

A couple in the northeastern town of Tilton suffered cuts and bruises after they left their mobile home and took shelter in their vehicle. The storm blew out the vehicle's windows, but the trailer was destroyed, said Gerald Britton, a deputy emergency coordinator in Cross County.

Other homes in the county were also damaged, Britton said.

Lost shingles and downed fences in Lonoke County may have been caused by a tornado, the National Weather Service said. Another tornado may have touched down in Woodruff County, where trees and power lines were down at Morton, the weather service said.

The high winds in Mississippi took off roofs and otherwise damaged homes in Bolivar and Panola counties, said Lea Stokes, spokeswoman for the state emergency agency.

Students in several counties were sent home.

''Some of the trees that made it through Katrina might not make it through this," said Ceroy Jefferson, assistant superintendent for Jefferson Davis County Schools. ''We just want children to be safe at home."

The rough weather was caused by a storm system moving from the northwest ahead of a cold front.

Other thunderstorms were possible from another system expected to be centered in Missouri.

Storms were expected through Monday.

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