4 killed as tornadoes sweep through Dallas area

Four people died in a storm-related incident in Texas near where a tornado touched down on Saturday, bringing the death toll from tornadoes and flooding this week in the southern United States to 22, according to officials and local media.

2 or possibly 3 tornadoes touched down

In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, flood waters from the Chattahoochee River covers streets in Columbia, Ala. (Jay Hare/Associated Press)

Four people died in a storm-related incident in Texas near where a tornado touched down on Saturday, bringing the death toll from tornadoes and flooding this week in the southern United States to 22, according to officials and local media.

The four victims were killed in what was believed to be a traffic accident in the Texas city of Garland, about 24 kilometres northeast of Dallas, police spokesman Mike Hatfield told the Dallas Morning News. Reuters could not independently verify the report as local authorities could not be immediately reached.

The weather is the latest in the U.S.'s freakish winter storms that sent temperatures plunging to near zero wind chill in the western Plains even as numerous record highs are forecast for the eastern U.S.

The Texas tornadoes shifted the national focus away from the Southeast where days of tumultuous weather including tornadoes left 18 people dead over the Christmas holiday period.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Anthony Bain in Fort Worth, Texas, said two or possibly three tornadoes touched down in the Dallas area, although the full extent of damage would not be known until daylight Sunday.

WFAA television in Dallas showed video of damage to homes, a church and vehicles stretching from Garland, about 30 kilometres northeast of Dallas to Glenn Heights, 30 kilometres south of the city.

The emergency manager of Ellis county south of Dallas, Stephanie Parker, posted on twitter: "We have destroyed and damaged homes. Please do not get out on the roads if you do not have to."

Elba, Ala., resident Scotty Farmer, right, delivers popcorn to the Haywood and Vella Burgans and family staying in the Red Cross shelter at Elba Elementary School on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. The Burgans' home was flooded by waters from the Pea river. (Hal Yeager/Associated Press)

The twisters — accompanied by torrential rain, wind and some hail — were part of a weather system that could produce major flooding from north Texas through eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, western Arkansas and parts of Missouri.

The severe weather snarled air traffic in the Dallas area. The Dallas Mavericks NBA game was delayed by 30 minutes because of the storm.

West Texas, New Mexico brace for snow

On the other side of Texas and including much of New Mexico, a snowstorm accompanied by plunging temperatures was expected to leave up to 40 centimetres of snow through Sunday evening, according to NWS meteorologist Brendon Rubin-Oster in College Park, Maryland.

"It's going to be quite dangerous for anyone exposed to these elements," Rubin-Oster said.

Snow fell as the Sun Bowl college football game between Miami and Washington State Saturday afternoon and El Paso was forecast to get 15 to 20 centimetres of snow overnight.

Jason Strunk, the football coach at Lubbock High School in West Texas, 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."

Meanwhile, two more deaths linked to weather were reported Saturday in Mississippi, bringing that state's death toll from severe weather over Christmas to 10. Late Saturday, one death was reported in Alabama.

Flash flooding closed roads across Alabama and trapped motorists in rapidly rising waters.

Tanager Tyler and son Mitchell look over a vehicle on Saturday that wound up in the culvert of their driveway after floodwaters swept it and its four occupants off the road during the previous night in Pinson, Ala. (Hal Yeager/Associated Press)

Boy saved from flooded car

Ranager Tyler and his son waded into flood water Christmas night and used rope to pull an 11-year-old boy out after his family's car was swept away near Pinson, about 24 kilometres northeast of Birmingham.

"The little boy was hanging on to the back of the car," Tyler said Saturday.

The family's car was overcome with flood water and ended up in a ditch near Tyler's Pinson home. The rushing water separated the family as they got out of the car, he said. The boy was later reunited with his family.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman 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 U.S. since Wednesday, bringing record rainfalls in some areas. Four inches of rain walloped the city of Mobile, Ala., on Wednesday — smashing the previous record of 5.6 centimetres 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 Saturday that authorities were monitoring areas for possible flooding.

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

One bit of good news for the battered Southeast was a forecast for calmer weather on Sunday. Temperatures in the eastern third of the country could set numerous records Sunday, Rubin-Oster said. Washington, D.C. could see a record daily temperature of 23 C Sunday, New York City 18 C —which would break a record of more than 50 years —and Orlando, Florida could tie a record of 30 C set in 1921.

Flood warnings in effect

Gregory Shuford, left, and Terease Shuford keep an eye on flooding in west Montgomery, Ala., on Christmas morning Friday, Dec. 25, 2015. (Mickey Welsh/The Associated Press)

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 five-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.

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

Part of the damage was caused by a tornado that touched down in Birmingham on Friday evening.

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.

With files from CBC News and Reuters


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