Severe storms threaten central US; trucker dies in Oklahoma

SPUR, Texas (AP) " A storm system blamed for the death of a truck driver in Oklahoma barreled eastward Wednesday, generating a tornado in Houston and threatening additional bad weather in the central United States.

The day after three storm chasers died in a collision as they raced toward a tornado-warned storm in West Texas, the Storm Prediction Center said 17 million people from Missouri to Louisiana risked seeing twisters, hail and high winds on Wednesday. An even greater threat exists Thursday in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.

The National Weather Service said a tornado with winds between 60 and 110 mph (100-175 kph) struck an apartment complex in southwestern Houston on Wednesday morning, damaging carports, windows and roofs. No injuries were reported following the tornado, rated as an EF-0 or an EF-1 on a six-level scale of tornado damage. Later Wednesday, damaging winds knocked a shipping container on a truck, injuring two near LaPorte, 20 miles (32 km) east of Houston. The Port of Houston said it didn't know if a tornado was to blame.

Late Tuesday, storms struck Oklahoma and northern Texas with tornadoes, tennis ball-sized hail and powerful winds. Roofs and walls were ripped away early Wednesday from homes in Rockwall, northeast of Dallas, and the city's mayor, Jim Pruitt, said one person suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Tornado watches were posted Wednesday evening from the Kansas City area southward to the Gulf Coast. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, predicted "an active severe weather event" Thursday from New Orleans to Cincinnati, with the worst between Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee.

In Oklahoma, a truck driver was killed Tuesday night after strong winds pushed his rig off the interstate in El Reno, outside Oklahoma City, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Forecasters confirmed a 95 mph (150 kph) wind gust in the area when the crash occurred.

In Texas, the three storm chasers " including two who were contractors for The Weather Channel " were killed in a collision at a remote intersection near the town of Spur, about 55 miles (90 km) southeast of Lubbock.

The channel said in a statement that Kelley Williamson and Randy Yarnall were "beloved members of the weather community" who had worked as contractors for the channel. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the two died Tuesday along with another storm chaser, 25-year-old Corbin Lee Jaeger of Peoria, Arizona.

Williamson and Yarnall were both from Cassville, Missouri.

Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Gonzalez says a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Williamson ran a stop sign and slammed into a Jeep driven by Jaeger. Yarnall was a passenger in the Suburban. All three were killed instantly. Tornadoes had been reported nearby at the time of the crash and heavy rain had been reported in the area.

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This story has been corrected to show that Corbin Lee Jaeger was the driver of the Jeep involved in the fatal wreck Tuesday that killed three storm chasers in West Texas. Randy Yarnall was a passenger in the other vehicle.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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