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US storm death toll set to rise as 12 confirmed dead

The death toll from weekend storms that claimed 12 lives in the US could rise as emergency workers search for missing residents, Oklahoma's governor warned today as she toured devastated areas.

Nine people, including two children, died in Oklahoma as a result of Friday night's tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. Flash floods in Arkansas had killed three earlier that day, including a sheriff attempting a water rescue.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin toured a community college and stockyard in El Reno this afternoon and said afterward that eight counties in the metro Oklahoma City area sustained wind or flooding damage. She warned that more victims are likely to be found by emergency services.

She said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has 600 workers assessing damage and working with state and local officials to prepare for recovery.

Mrs Fallin did not say how many people are believed to be missing, but noted crews are searching flooded areas. She also said 115 people were injured.

The main damage was caused by a tornado as it charged down Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City's western suburbs on Friday night, twisting billboards and scattering cars and tractor-trailers along a roadway clogged with rush-hour motorists leaving work or fleeing the storm's path.

"The last two nights, I've been having hell," said Roy Stoddard, a truck driver from Depew, Oklahoma, who was delayed by rising floodwaters at Little Rock, Arkansas on Thursday. Then on Friday evening, he had to take shelter in a shop's walk-in cooler during Friday evening's rush-hour in Oklahoma City as deadly weather approached.

"I know what a tornado can do," Mr Stoddard added.

Damage from Friday night's severe weather was concentrated a few miles north of Moore, the Oklahoma City suburb pounded by an EF5 tornado on May 20 that killed 24 people. Next up, the system was approaching the densely populated Northeast.

The Storm Prediction Centre in Norman predicted a slight chance of severe weather in the Northeast today, mainly from the Washington, D.C., area to northern Maine. Hail and high winds were the chief threat, though a tornado could not be ruled out, forecasters said.

Friday night's storm formed out on the prairie west of Oklahoma City, giving residents plenty of advance notice. When told to seek shelter, many ventured out and snarled traffic across the metro area - perhaps remembering the damage from May 20.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Betsy Randolph said roadways quickly became congested with the convergence of rush-hour traffic and fleeing residents.

"They had no place to go, and that's always a bad thing. They were essentially targets just waiting for a tornado to touch down," Ms Randolph said. "I'm not sure why people do that sort of stuff, but it is very dangerous."

The victims included a mother and a baby sucked out of their car as the EF3 hit near El Reno. A four-year-old boy died after being swept into the Oklahoma River on the south side of Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma City police Lt. Jay Barnett. The boy and other family members had sought shelter in a drainage ditch.

More than 100 people were injured by swirling debris, most with puncture wounds and lacerations, authorities said.

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