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Midwest storms kill at least 13

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Keith and Glenna Bartley, tourists from Kingsport, Tenn., said staff at the Grand Victorian Hotel where they were staying ushered them to the basement around 1:30 a.m.

(Photo: Associated Press)

Branson has long been a tourist destination for visitors attracted to the beauty of the surrounding Ozarks.

But the city rose to prominence in the 1990s because of its theater district, which drew country music stars and other music celebrities including the Osmond and Andy Williams. It is about 110 miles southeast of Joplin, which was devastated by a monstrous twister last May that killed 161 people.

Farther north, rescue crews waited for sunrise to begin searching a trailer park south of Buffalo where at least one person was killed after an apparent twister slammed the area. Lt. Dana Eagan of the Dallas County Sheriff's Office said 13 people at the park were hurt and the entire town was without power. Buffalo is about 35 miles north of Springfield.

Tornado season normally starts in March, but it isn't unusual to see severe storms earlier in the year.

Forecasters can seldom assess how serious a season will be because twisters are so unpredictable.

This year, two people were killed by separate tornadoes in Alabama in January, and preliminary reports have showed 95 tornadoes struck that month. In neighboring Kansas, the National Weather Service reported brief tornado touchdowns southwest of Hutchinson, and Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of emergency after an apparent tornado struck Harveyville.

The declaration covered Wabaunsee County, southwest of Topeka. The governor's office said one person was critically injured, several homes and a church were damaged and trees and power lines were down.

The system also skirted northern Arkansas, bringing gusts of up to 60 mph in the northwest.

A wall cloud, which often produces twisters, was reported in Cherokee Village, where trees were scattered along roads, the weather service said. Residents of Clay County in northeastern Arkansas reported hail the size of golf balls, while half dollar-sized hail was reported in Mountain Home.

In northern Oklahoma, gusts of up to 80 mph flipped trailers and damaged homes near Cherokee. Tornado warnings and watches were posted for most of Kentucky and a large portion of Kentucky.

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