Storms hit southern and central U.S. states over the Christmas holiday unleashing floods and tornadoes that killed at least 34 people, toppled buildings and snarled transportation for millions during a busy travel time.
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.
“A tornado of that strength is very rare in a metropolitan area,” National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop said in a telephone interview. Powerful tornadoes are a staple of spring and summer in central states and occur less frequently during winter, according to U.S. weather data
Three other deaths were reported in the Dallas metropolitan area, the United States’ fourth most populous with about 7 million people. Scores of people were injured in the region, officials said.
“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.”
In Illinois, three adults and two children drowned when floodwaters swept away their car on Saturday night near the village of Patoka, about 85 miles (137 km) east of St. Louis, according to officials and local media.
The storms came on the heels of tornadoes that hit two days before Christmas, killing at least 18 people, including 10 in Mississippi.
Five tornadoes were reported in Texas and one in Oklahoma on Saturday, the National Weather Service said.
More could be on their way on Sunday, said the agency, which issued a tornado watch for several Houston-area counties and a warning for an area south of Jackson, Mississippi.
A tornado watch means a storm is likely, while a warning means a storm or storms have been sighted.
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.
“If you do not need to be on the road, please stay off the road,” he said at a news conference.
The 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 Kansas and a flash flood watch stretching from Texas to Indiana.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency for the entire state due to a winter storm expected to dump up to 2 feet of snow in eastern parts of the state.
The bad weather forced the cancellation of about 1,150 flights in the nation as of 3:30 p.m. EST on Sunday, according to tracking service FlightAware.com. About half of the canceled flights were in Dallas, a major U.S. flight hub.
In Texas, about 25,000 customers were without power on Sunday morning, according to local utilities.
Much of Arkansas was under a hazardous weather outlook, with some parts of the state expected to be deluged with up to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain on Sunday.
(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Additonal reporting by Marice Richter in Dallas and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis)