DALLAS, Dec 28, (Agencies): Storms hit the US South, Southwest and Midwest over the Christmas holiday weekend, unleashing floods and tornadoes that killed at least 43 people, flattened buildings and snarled transportation for millions during a busy travel time. The bad weather, or the threat of it, prompted the governors of Missouri and New Mexico to declare a state of emergency for their states. Flash floods killed at least 13 people in Missouri and Illinois.
In Missouri, emergency workers have evacuated residents from their homes and conducted dozens of water rescues, Governor Jay Nixon said on Sunday. He said at least eight people had been killed and numerous roadways had been closed. Nixon declared a state of emergency, saying continued rains would make already widespread flooding conditions worse.
Three adults and two children were near the village of Patoka, Illinois, 85 miles (137 km) east of St Louis, Missouri, when their car was washed away by floodwaters on Saturday night, according to Marion County Coroner Troy Cannon. In Texas, at least 11 people were killed in the Dallas area over the weekend by tornadoes, including one packing winds of up to 200 miles per hour (322 km per hour). The twister hit the city of Garland, killing eight people and blowing vehicles off highways.
“It is total devastation,” Garland Police spokesman Lieutenant Pedro Barineau said. “It is a very difficult time to be struck by such a horrible storm the day after Christmas.” Three other deaths were reported in the Dallas metropolitan area, the United States’ fourth most populous with about 7 million residents. Scores of people were injured in the region and officials estimated some 800 homes may have been damaged.
Powerful tornadoes are a staple of spring and summer in central states but occur less frequently in winter, according to US weather data Three tornadoes were reported in Arkansas on Sunday, the weather service said, but there were no initial reports of significant injuries or damage. The service has issued tornado watches and warnings for areas in that state, as well as in parts of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi.
A tornado watch means a storm is likely, while a warning means a storm or storms have been sighted. The storms came on the heels of tornadoes that hit two days before Christmas, killing at least 18 people, including 10 in Mississippi.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said his office had declared Dallas County and three nearby counties disaster areas. He also warned people to be wary of snow in western parts of the state and rivers spilling their banks in other places.
The National Weather Service issued severe weather advisories for large parts of the central United States, including a blizzard warning for parts of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and a flash flood watch stretching from Texas to Indiana.
As residents of North Texas surveyed the destruction from deadly weekend tornadoes, the storm system that spawned the twisters was bringing winter storms to the Midwest and flooding already being blamed for more than a dozen deaths. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in the tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage.
The storms and flooding in Missouri and Illinois were the latest in a succession of severe weather events across the country which have led to at least 43 deaths in less than a week. In northern Texas, where local officials estimated as many as 1,450 homes were damaged or destroyed. Vehicles were mangled, power lines fell and trees were toppled. Heavy rain, wind and falling temperatures hampered cleanup efforts Sunday afternoon. “This is a huge impact on our community and we’re all suffering,” Garland Police Lt Pedro Barineau said of the suburb about 20 miles northeast of Dallas, where eight people died, 15 were injured and about 600 structures, mostly single-family homes, were damaged.
The weather service said an EF-4 tornado, which is the second-most powerful with winds up to more than 200 mph (320 kph), hit the community at about 6:45 pm Saturday. Natalie Guzman, 33, took photos of her family’s home in a Garland neighborhood. The garage wall had collapsed and the roof fell in. The only part of the house that appeared to be spared was the master bathroom, where her brother-inlaw took shelter Saturday night. He was the only one at home and told her he had just enough time to get himself and his dogs into the bathroom. “It was worse than I thought,” Guzman said, comparing the scene to the photos he had sent Saturday. In the nearby town of Rowlett, City Manager Brian Funderburk said Sunday morning that 23 people were injured, but that there were no deaths and no reports of missing people. The weather service said damage indicated it was likely an EF-3 tornado, which has winds up to 165 mph.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement Sunday night that as many as 600 homes were damaged in Rowlett. Homes in the neighborhood that had been searched by emergency responders were marked with a black “X.” In some instances, it looked like homes had been picked up and set back down in a big pile. State troopers blocked off roads, utility crews restored power and people walked around, hushed and dazed. Three other people died in Collin County, about 45 miles northeast of Dallas, according to sheriff’s deputy Chris Havey, although the circumstances were not immediately clear.
Texas Gov Greg Abbott made disaster declarations Sunday for four counties — Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and Ellis — and warned that the number of victims could rise. On the other side of the state, the Department of Public Safety in Amarillo strongly discouraged travel throughout the entire Texas Panhandle — a 26-county area covering nearly 26,000 square miles — because blowing and drifting snow had made the roads impassable. Interstate 40, the main east-west highway across the Panhandle, was almost completely shut down.