US storm death toll rises to 22

2015-12-27 10:34
Water shoots up between boards on a pier in San Leon, Texas. (Stuart Villanueva, AP)

Water shoots up between boards on a pier in San Leon, Texas. (Stuart Villanueva, AP)

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Birmingham - The death toll in the Southeast climbed to 22 on Saturday after less than a week of tumultuous weather — unusual warmth, tornadoes and torrential downpours — sparked flooding and caused damage that wreaked havoc during the Christmas holiday.

Two deaths attributable to weather were reported on Saturday in Mississippi: two people who have been missing since Wednesday, bringing that state's death toll to 10. Late on Saturday, one death was reported in Alabama.

In Texas, four people were confirmed killed in vehicle accidents near the intersection of two major highways in Garland, east of Dallas.

Officer Joe Harn, a Garland police spokesperson, said the four were killed in accidents that occurred during a massive storm, but it's unclear if all four were in the same vehicle or how they died.

A tornado was reported to have gone through the suburb east of Dallas, damaging several homes.

Harn said there were no active rescues under way, though first responders continue to search houses for anyone trapped after the storms passed.

Texas residents hunkered down for what the National Weather Service was calling a "historic blizzard." Some parts of the Panhandle could see as much as 356mm of snow, with sub-zero wind chills and accumulating ice. Residents in Lubbock and Amarillo prepared for an evening storm.

Jason Strunk, the football coach at Lubbock High School, said he was checking his home's pipes and laying out cat litter for traction on his sidewalk and driveway, just as he learned growing up and living in colder climates farther north. Strunk's major concern was unprepared drivers going out on wet, icy roads.

"When we get an inch or two, people panic," he said. "They really don't know how to drive in this kind of stuff."

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Greg Flynn said 56 injuries were reported. In a statement, Flynn said preliminary damage estimates show 241 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

More than 400 homes in total were affected, he said. Severe storms are forecast for Sunday night through Monday as a strong cold front pushes through. Tornadoes are possible, and residents are asked to remain alert.

The flooding is the result of heavy downpours that have thrashed the southeastern US since Wednesday, bringing record rainfalls in some areas. Four inches of rain walloped the city of Mobile, Alabama, on Wednesday — smashing the previous record of 5.59cm set in 1990.

Six people were killed in Tennessee, including three who were found in a car submerged in a creek, according to the Columbia Police Department. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said on Saturday that authorities were monitoring areas for possible flooding.

One person died in Arkansas, and dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed.

In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley on Saturday visited weather-damaged areas in Coffee County. A statement from the governor's office said that about 190 roads across Alabama were closed due to flooding.

Authorities on Saturday recovered the body of a 5-year-old boy who drowned after the car he was riding in was submerged by floodwaters on Friday, said Coffee County Coroner Robert Preachers. The search is ongoing for a 22-year-old man who was also in the car.

The National Weather Service in Huntsville warned residents to avoid driving in areas where flooding was expected.

A flood warning was in effect late on Saturday afternoon for parts of northern Alabama.

A tornado touched down in Birmingham on Friday evening, but damage was limited.

Peak tornado season in the South is in the spring, but such storms can happen at any time. Exactly a year ago, tornadoes hit Mississippi, killing five people and injuring dozens.Contributing to this report are Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Dallas, Chevel Johnson in New Orleans, Jonathan Landrum in Atlanta, and Dylan Lovan in Louisville. Chandler reported from Montgomery.

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