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Torrential rains, damaging winds lash U.S. midsection

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(Reuters) - Heavy rains and damaging winds struck a broad swath of the U.S. heartland on Saturday, causing power outages for thousands of Oklahoma residents while triggering road closures and flash flood warnings in parts of the Midwest.

The downpour, which began on Friday, was so intense the ground could not absorb the moisture, creating a high likelihood of flooding, said meteorologist Kenneth James of the Weather Prediction Center, which is part of the National Weather Service.

In the town of Benton, Illinois, floodwaters were reaching the doors of some homes. In neighboring Indiana, parts of Interstate 64 in the southern part of the state were flooded near the town of Ferdinand.

Parts of Indiana have received up to 8 inches (20 cm) of rain while areas in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas have been drenched with up to 4 inches (10 cm), James said.

In the Oklahoma City area, 40,000 people were without electricity on Saturday morning after winds snapped power lines, the Daily Oklahoman reported. Flooding also shut down sections of Interstate 235 in the city.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for large swaths of the Midwest and Arkansas and officials urged residents to take them seriously. Evacuations could be necessary if areas along swollen waterways receive widespread flooding.

"Flash flooding results in more fatalities than a lot of other types of weather hazards," James said by telephone.

The heavy rainfall in the Midwest is expected to continue on Saturday night and into Sunday. Damaging wind gusts of 60 miles (95 km) per hour are also predicted.

On Friday night, a tornado in Lawrence, Illinois, damaged outbuildings and snapped trees, James said.

Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, told travelers on Twitter to expect delays and to check their flight with their airline as severe weather moves through the area.

Nationwide, delays affected nearly 1,300 flights within the United States or entering or leaving the country, according to tracking service FlightAware.

To the west, a storm has dumped snow in Colorado and Wyoming, with the highest accumulation in Lander, Wyoming, which had 33 inches (84 cm), James said.

The snowstorm will move into western Kansas later on Saturday.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Toby Chopra and Matthew Lewis)

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