Death toll rises in severe US storms

2015-12-28 15:04
Missouri's governor has declared a state of emergency after widespread flooding. (Willie Brown, AP)

Missouri's governor has declared a state of emergency after widespread flooding. (Willie Brown, AP)

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Garland - Texas reeled from rare December tornadoes on Monday as days of storms battering a vast region stretching from the southwestern US to Canada claimed at least 43 lives.

Hundreds of flights across the area have been cancelled and with portions of major highways flooded, the storm system is wreaking havoc in holiday travel plans for millions of Americans.

The national weather service is warning of blizzards, freezing rain and flash floods in the next days, all part of a powerful storm system fuelled by unseasonably warm air that began in the deep south on Wednesday last week.

Storm damage

The NWS said on Monday that 21 states - from New Mexico to as far north as Michigan - are under a weather watch or warning as part of the storm system.

The governors of New Mexico, Texas and Missouri declared states of emergency for all or parts of their states to handle the storm damage. Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia earlier took similar measures.

At least 11 people were killed as tornadoes struck the heavily populated Dallas-Fort Worth metro area in Texas, according to authorities who searched house-to-house for additional victims.

The rare December twisters flattened homes and knocked cars off highways.

The NWS said that at least nine twisters touched down in the region in the past few days.

Flattened homes

Hardest-hit was the Dallas suburb of Garland, where authorities confirmed eight fatalities after a tornado packing winds of up to 320km/h bore down on the city.

City officials said this is only the second time since 1950 that such a powerful tornado struck the area.

Aerial footage showed rows of flattened homes, while others had roofs blown off and windows shattered. About 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed, officials said.

Tornadoes are common in the US midwest in the spring, but rare during winter.

Three other storm-related fatalities occurred northeast of Dallas said the Collin County sheriff's department.

State governor Greg Abbott told reporters that northwest Texas was battling harsh wintry conditions, with snow and ice causing power outages, while central Texas was facing flood risks and the east was bracing for the possibility of more tornadoes.

The storm dumped rare heavy snow in eastern New Mexico, a situation governor Susana Martinez described as "dire."

Martinez activated the National Guard for disaster assistance and urged residents to stay off the roads.

Heavy snow

In Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon said that at least eight fatalities due to flash flooding were reported in his state.

In nearby Mississippi, where governor Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency to deal with flooding, "severe storms" are forecast on Monday, the state emergency management agency said.

The agency also reported 10 storm-related deaths.

Illinois reported five deaths, while eight others were killed in southern states on and before Christmas Day, including one in Arkansas and six in Tennessee.

The NWS forecast blizzards and heavy snow for eastern New Mexico, Oklahoma and northern Texas, with snow expected to eventually reach the tornado-damaged Dallas area.

Flights cancelled

Conditions are especially perilous in places unused to heavy snowfall such as New Mexico, where urban areas lack snow removal equipment and few drivers are experienced at driving safely in snow and ice.

To deal with icy conditions pounding their state, Oklahoma closed some roads and sent out trucks to salt major arteries, local media reported on Monday.

More than 200 flights were cancelled when the Federal Aviation Administration issued a ground stop for the Dallas International Airport on Sunday.


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