DALLAS, Dec 26 (Reuters) – Five people died in Texas as a storm system brought tornadoes and flooding to the state on Saturday, increasing the death toll from harsh weather in the southern United States this week to 23, according to officials and local media.
Four victims were killed in what was believed to be a traffic accident in the hard-hit city of Garland, about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of downtown Dallas, police spokesman Mike Hatfield told the Dallas Morning News.
Another person was found dead at a gas station in the city of Copeville, 20 miles (32 km) to the north, authorities told local broadcaster WFAA-TV.
The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes hit multiple cities in the greater Dallas area on Saturday evening, and there were reports of widespread damage.
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, as well as devastated houses and vehicles.
The Weather Service said there were also reports of debris falling from the sky onto a highway in nearby DeSoto. Flash flood warnings extended through Saturday night for the region, according to the Weather Service.
Power was out for at least 31,000 customers in the region as of Saturday night, according to energy company Oncor.
MORE BODIES IN MISSISSIPPI
Officials in Benton County, Mississippi, on Saturday found the bodies of a man and woman who were missing since being caught in a tornado on Wednesday, said 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, 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 told local broadcaster WTVY that they had recovered the body of a 5-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.
U.S. post-holiday travelers can expect a mix of stormy weather during the remainder of the weekend, with blizzard conditions in New Mexico and western Texas and flooding rain in the southern plains from south Texas through Indiana, forecasters said.
In California, high winds fanned a wildfire that closed parts of the much-traveled U.S. 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.
(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas, Mary Wisniewski in Chicago and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Rigby and Dan Grebler)
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