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Severe storms threaten central US after truck driver dies in Oklahoma

A storm system that is blamed for the death of a truck driver in Oklahoma has barrelled eastward, putting 17 million people in the central United States at risk for bad weather, forecasters said.

Three storm chasers also died on Tuesday in a collision as they raced toward a tornado-warned storm in West Texas, authorities said.

The storms that struck Texas and Oklahoma late on Tuesday brought tornadoes, tennis ball-sized hail and powerful winds, but no widespread damage was reported. It is just the beginning of what is expected to be a stormy week in Tornado Alley and in parts of the South.

The Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma, said an area stretching from Louisiana to central Missouri, including all of Arkansas, could see very large hail, strong tornadoes and powerful winds on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, forecasters issued tornado warnings in Houston, though no substantial damage was reported.

Roofs and walls were ripped away early on Wednesday from homes in Rockwall, north east of Dallas, and the city's mayor, Jim Pruitt, said one person suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Forecasters said the storms could intensify on Thursday as the system moves past the Mississippi River.

The severe-weather risk on Thursday is moderate - the second-highest classification from the Storm Prediction Centre. Forecasters said they expect "an active severe weather event" on Thursday in an area stretching from New Orleans to Cincinnati. Forecasters say the biggest risk on Thursday for severe storms is in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.

In Oklahoma, the truck driver was killed on 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 95mph 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 south-east 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 on Tuesday along with another storm chaser, 25-year-old Corbin Lee Jaeger of Peoria, Arizona.

Mr Williamson and Mr Yarnall were both from Cassville, Missouri.

Department of Public Safety Sergeant John Gonzalez said a Chevrolet Suburban driven by Mr Williamson ran a stop sign and hit a Jeep driven by Mr Jaeger. Mr 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.

AP

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