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Twelve die as twister flattens US towns

Tornados spawned by a powerful storm system roared through middle America, flattening entire blocks of homes in Illinois and Kansas and killing at least 12 people.

An apparent twister cut through Branson, Missouri, just before 1am and seemed to hopscotch up the city's main roadway, ripping roofs off hotels and damaging some of the city's famed country music theatres close to the start of the heavy tourism season.

At least 37 people were reported hurt, mostly with cuts and bruises.

At least six people were killed in the southern Illinois town of Harrisburg after a storm levelled much of the community of 9,000 people.

In Missouri, one person was killed in a trailer park in the town of Buffalo, with two more fatalities reported in other areas of the state. Three people were reported killed in eastern Tennessee.

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