The death toll rose to at least five yesterday after severe thunderstorms swept through the central US, spawning a tornado that flattened homes, gale force winds and widespread flooding from the Upper Midwest to Appalachia

The system that stretched from Texas to the Canadian maritime provinces yesterday had prompted emergency declarations a day earlier in Missouri, Indiana and Illinois.

In south central Kentucky, the body of a male was recovered from a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in a creek near the community of Franklin on Saturday, the Simpson County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. The victim's identify was being withheld pending notification of relatives.

Debris is strewn throughout the neighbourhood after the storm hit Tennessee. Photo / AP
Debris is strewn throughout the neighbourhood after the storm hit Tennessee. Photo / AP

In Kentucky, authorities said three people died. Two bodies were recovered from submerged vehicles in separate incidents Saturday.

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A body was recovered from a vehicle that was in a ditch in western Kentucky near Morganfield, the Henderson Fire Department said on its Facebook page. The body has been sent to a medical examiner for an autopsy.

And a male's body was pulled from a vehicle in a creek near the south central Kentucky community of Franklin on Saturday, the Simpson County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. The victim's identify was being withheld pending notification of relatives.

About 32 kilometres away, Dallas Jane Combs, 79, died after a suspected tornado destroyed her Adairville home on Saturday, the Logan County Sheriff's Office told media outlets. Sheriff officials said Combs was inside the home when it collapsed on her. Combs was pronounced dead at the scene.

Authorities said Combs' husband was outside putting up plastic to keep rain out of the home when he was blown into the basement area. He sustained minor injuries.

In northeast Arkansas, an 83-year-old man was killed after high winds toppled a trailer home. Clay County Sheriff Terry Miller told KAIT-TV that Albert Foster died on Saturday night after the home was blown into a pond.

About 80 kilometres away, the National Weather Service said the roof was blown off a hotel in Osceola, about 255 kilometres north of Memphis, Tennessee.

In Middle Tennessee, the National Weather Service on Sunday confirmed an EF-2 tornado with maximum winds of 193 kmh hit Clarksville on Saturday.

Montgomery County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Sandra Brandon said at least four homes were destroyed and dozens of others were damaged, while 75 cars at a tyre plant parking lot had their windows blown out or were tossed onto one other.

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"To look at what I'm looking at and know we didn't lose anybody is just a miracle," Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett told the Leaf-Chronicle.

At Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, a teenage girl was hit by falling debris at a college basketball game after an apparent lightning strike knocked a hole in the arena's roof on Saturday night. School director of marketing and digital media Kevin Young said the 15-year-old girl was taken to a hospital as a precaution. The extent of her injuries weren't immediately released.

The game between Austin Peay and Murray State was stopped with 5:49 left in the second half due to the leaky roof. Fans took shelter in nearby hallways and athletic offices before play resumed after a more than three hour delay.

Austin Peay President Alisa R. White said on Twitter that athletics department officials and physical plant workers "did a great job handling a big crowd and the elements in what could have been a much worse situation."

Clarksville is about 77 kilometres northwest of Nashville, Tennessee.

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens signed an executive order earlier Saturday declaring a state of emergency ahead of the anticipated storms and flooding in parts of southern Missouri. The order activates the resources of the Missouri National Guard and ensures state resources are available in the event of weather damage.

Other state leaders have issued similar orders: Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb declared a disaster emergency for 11 counties and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner issued a state disaster proclamation for three counties hit by flooding.

Flood watches and warnings spanned multiple states yesterday morning, from Missouri to central Pennsylvania, while a wind advisory remained in effect for nearly all of Lower Michigan.

The weather service said moderate flooding was expected along the Ohio River in Kentucky and Ohio, including in Cincinnati, where the river was 8 feet above flood stage Sunday.

Transportation officials said parts of Interstate 64 in Louisville, Kentucky, were closed in both directions Sunday due to high water.

- AP