US tornado, flood deaths reach 26 as new tornadoes hit

Damage caused by a tornado is seen in a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, on Dec 26, 2015.
Damage caused by a tornado is seen in a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, on Dec 26, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

DALLAS (REUTERS) - The death toll from tornadoes and flooding this week in the southern United States climbed to 26 on Saturday (Dec 26), according to officials and local media, as the nation braced for more stormy weather over the busy post-holiday travel weekend.

Eight people died in the greater Dallas area as the storm system brought tornadoes and flooding on Saturday, according to officials and local media.

Police in Garland confirmed in a statement that four people died after a tornado struck the city, some 24km north-east of downtown Dallas.

Homes, apartments and vehicles were also damaged, police said, but it was not clear how many people were hurt.

Local broadcaster NBC5 reported that a fifth person also died in the city and that all five were involved in a traffic accident, according to Garland police spokesman Mike Hatfield. A spokesman for the department could not be immediately reached.

Two other people were found dead at a gas station in the city of Copeville, another 32km to the north-east, said Lieutanant Chris Havey, spokesman for the Collin County Sheriff's Office, and an infant had died in Blue Ridge.

The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes hit multiple cities around Dallas on Saturday evening. Weather officials said there were reports of debris falling from the sky onto a highway in nearby DeSoto.

The Weather Service said a tornado had touched down to the south of Dallas in Ellis County, where Emergency Management Coordinator Stephanie Parker said: "We have destroyed and damaged homes."

Weather officials also confirmed tornadoes striking the Texas towns Ovilla, Farmersville and Rowlett - which neighbors Garland. Images uploaded to social media showed a massive tornado near Rowlett and at least one destroyed structure. Flash flood and tornado warnings extended into Saturday night for the region, according to the Weather Service.

The bodies of a man and a woman missing since they were caught in a tornado in Benton County, Mississippi, on Wednesday were found by search and rescue teams on Saturday morning, said Mr Greg Flynn, spokesman for Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

The cause of their deaths was not disclosed, but they brought the total dead from tornadoes in Mississippi to 10, in addition to 56 people injured, officials said.

The tornado damaged 403 homes over a seven-county area in the state, Mr Flynn said. In addition, flooding left 50 homes uninhabitable and closed 40 roads in Monroe County, which got 10 to 12 inches (about 25 to 30 cm) of rain, he said.

The tornadoes also killed six people in Tennessee and one each in Arkansas and Alabama, bringing the three-state total to 18.

State authorities on Saturday told local broadcaster WTVY that they had recovered the body of a five-year-old boy who drowned when the car he was in was swept into floodwaters on Friday. A 22-year-old man who was in the car remains missing, the station said.

The National Weather Service warned of a "tornadic supercell" moving toward downtown Dallas on Saturday evening and there were reports of debris falling from the sky onto a highway in nearby DeSoto.

Weather officials also warned of likely tornados hitting near the Texas towns of Rowlett, Wylie and Lavon. Flash flood and tornado warnings extended into Saturday night for the region, according to the weather service.

US post-holiday travelers can expect a mix of stormy weather this weekend, with blizzard conditions in New Mexico and western Texas, while flooding rain hits the southern plains from south Texas through Indiana, forecasters said.

In California, high winds fanned a wildfire that closed parts of the much-traveled Highway 101 northwest of Los Angeles and forced evacuations, fire officials said.

The wet and snowy conditions come after a Christmas Day of unseasonable warmth on the East Coast, with record-high temperatures set or tied in several cities, including New York. "It's going to be a pretty active weekend as far as winter weather," said Mr Evan Duffey, meteorologist for AccuWeather. "It looks like it's going to be pretty bad across the southwest into the southern plains."

Mr Duffey said that given the blizzard conditions expected for Saturday, anyone hoping to travel in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas"should try to get going as soon as you can" to beat the storm.