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Death toll reaches 18 as floods and tornadoes rip through the South

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Damage caused by a tornado is seen in a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama, December 26, 2015. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

The death toll from tornadoes and flooding this week in the southern United States climbed to 18 on Saturday, according to officials and local media, as the nation braced for more stormy weather during the busy post-holiday travel weekend.

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

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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.

A twister hit Birmingham, Alabama, late on Friday afternoon. State authorities on Saturday told local broadcaster WTVY that they had recovered the body of a 5-year-old boy who drowned when the car he was in got swept into floodwaters on Friday. A 22-year-old man who was in the car remains missing, the station said.

Alabama and Mississippi will get another round of rain on Monday night, said Evan Duffey, meteorologist for AccuWeather.

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

Meanwhile, U.S. 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 on Saturday.

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.

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“It’s going to be a pretty active weekend as far as winter weather,” Duffey said. “It looks like it’s going to be pretty bad across the southwest into the southern plains.”

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.

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Those with flights through Dallas, St. Louis, Indianapolis and New Orleans should expect delays, according to AccuWeather.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Kevin Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Bill Rigby)


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