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Update: Storms kill 4, damage Branson theater district

BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — UPDATE: 10:45 A.M. A powerful storm system that produced multiple reports of tornadoes lashed the Midwest early Wednesday, roughing up the country music resort city of Branson and laying waste to a small town in Kansas. At least four people were killed in Illinois and Missouri.

An apparent twister rolled through Branson just before 1 a.m. and seemed to hopscotch up the city's main roadway, ripping roofs off hotels and damaging some of the city's famed music theaters dangerously close to the start of the heavy tourism season. More than 30 people were reported hurt, mostly with cuts and bruises.

"If it was a week later, it'd be a different story," said Bill Tirone, assistant general manager for the 530-room Hiltons of Branson and the Branson Convention Center, where windows were shattered and some rooms had furniture sucked away by high winds. Hotel workers were able to get all guests to safety as the storm raged.

John Moore, owner of the damaged Cakes-n-Creams '50s Diner, said the tornado seemed to target the city's main strip, moving down the entertainment district, right through the convention center, across a lake and into a housing division. He said the tornado appeared to "jump side to side."

"The theater next to me kind of exploded. It went everywhere. The hotels on the two sides of me lost their roofs. Power lines are down. Windows are blown out," Moore said. "There's major, major destruction. There has to be millions dollars of damage all down the strip."

At least three people were killed in the southern Illinois city of Harrisburg after a storm swept through shortly before dawn. In Missouri, one person was killed in a trailer park in the town of Buffalo, and at least three people were critically injured in the small eastern Kansas town of Harveyville.

The tornadoes were spawned by a powerful storm system that blew down from the Rockies on Tuesday and was headed across the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys toward the Mid-Atlantic region.

EARLIER STORY:

One person is dead, dozens are injured and some are trapped in their homes after a powerful storm system bearing a string of possible tornadoes battered a tourist hub and mobile home park in southwest Missouri.

Rescue crews awaited sunrise Wednesday to begin scouring the trailer park south of Buffalo where at least one person was killed after an apparent tornado slammed the area overnight, Lt. Dana Eagan of the Dallas County Sheriff's Office said.

The storm left another 13 people at the park injured and knocked out power to all of Buffalo, Eagan said. Buffalo is about 35 miles north of Springfield.

An apparent tornado left at least a dozen more people injured further south in Branson, trapping some people in their homes, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Griffin.

Searchers were going from house to house early Wednesday, Taney County Sheriff Jimmie Russell. The National Weather Service typically sends teams in the hours and days following a storm of this size to determine if a tornado struck.

Griffin said the storm left a trail of destruction in downtown Branson, scattering the area with debris and uprooted road signs, and heavily damaging buildings in the city's famous theater district.

Branson is one of the Midwest's major tourist attractions, drawing millions each year to its theaters and amusement parks. Entertainers such as Andy Williams, comedian Yakov Smirnoff and Jim Stafford have settled in the city.

In neighboring Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback declared a state of emergency late Tuesday after an apparent tornado struck Harveyville.

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

Earlier, the National Weather Service reported brief tornado touchdowns southwest of Hutchinson, Kan.