The violent twister was confirmed to have struck Missouri’s capital at 11:43pm on Wednesday night. Several terrifying but unconfirmed reports claim residents heard “mass casualties” over their scanners. There were already three deaths confirmed across the state, though figures from the capital are yet to emerge.
An emergency alert described the tornado as “large and destructive” and moving at 40mph.
The NWS of Saint Louis said on Facebook that the tornado has ‘produced extensive damage’.
The Jefferson City Fire Department was sending rescuers house-to-house searching for people in need, officials posted on social media, with reports of people trapped in debris.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said on Twitter early on Thursday: “We’re doing okay but praying for those that were caught in damage, some still trapped.”
Jared Maples, a meteorologist with the NWS St. Louis office, said: “As of this morning, the main parts of the storms have pushed eastward, thank goodness,” leaving the region to deal with just another expected two inches of rain through Friday.
At least three other people have been killed since Monday in Oklahoma and Iowa in a string of at least 30 tornadoes, heavy rains and floods that hit a swath from Texas to Illinois since Monday.
Residents in sections of Jefferson were under orders to evacuate Thursday ahead of the expected crest of the Missouri River at least 2 feet above the 30-foot high levees.
Rainfall is predicted to be about 2 inches (5 cm) across eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and into western Missouri, with localised spots getting up to 5 inches (13 cm), forecasters said.
Missouri Public Safety tweeted that there was a possibility of more tornadoes and flash flooding.
First responders warned that ‘flash flooding hazards will expand as rain continues’. There have also been numerous reports of gas odours.
Authorities confirmed that several buildings had collapsed and photos from one structure appeared to be a Sonic restaurant.
There were also local reports of a bowling alley with heavy damage and a destroyed bank.
One tornado churned just a few miles north of Joplin, Missouri, on the eighth anniversary of a catastrophic tornado that killed 161 people in the city.
The Joplin tornado on May 22, 2011, was one of the strongest and most destructive in US history.