Tornadoes hammer the Deep South as storms kill 2 in Florida

Almost 200,000 residences in states of Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan were without power

A line of severe storms packing isolated tornadoes and high winds ripped across the Deep South overnight — killing at least two in the Florida panhandle, toppling trees and power lines and leaving homes and businesses damaged as the vast weather front raced across several states.

In Florida, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday morning that two were killed and two injured when a tornado touched down in the western Florida panhandle.

Two homes were destroyed and power lines were knocked down, said Washington Country Emergency Management spokeswoman Cheryl Frankenfield. The Florida county’s Facebook page showed at least one home that was obliterated, as well as trees down on another home.

At least two confirmed tornadoes injured several people on Wednesday, damaged homes and businesses and downed power lines in Mississippi and Tennessee after earlier storms caused damage in Arkansas, Missouri and Texas.

About 185,000 customers were without electricity on Thursday morning following the storm along a band of states: Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, poweroutage.us, which tracks utilities showed.

The worst of the weather on Thursday morning appeared to be at the southern end of the storm front, which was expected to bring heavy rain and high winds all along the US east coast later in the day. Much of the Florida panhandle was under a tornado watch, the National Weather Service in Tallahassee reported.

Widespread damage was reported in the Jackson, Tennessee, area as a tornado warning was in effect. “Significant damage” occurred to a nursing home near Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office in Jackson, said Madison County Emergency Management Director Jason Moore.

In Nashville, Tennessee, panelling fell five storeys from the side of a city centre hotel on Wednesday evening and on to the roof of a building below. The fire department said that debris could become airborne as high winds continued and some hotel guests were moved to other parts of the building due to concerns the roof would become unstable. No injuries were immediately associated with the collapse.

Daylight revealed widespread wind damage across Alabama.

Elsewhere, a warehouse roof collapsed as the storms moved through Southaven, Mississippi, near Memphis, police said. The building had been evacuated and no injuries were reported.

The Mississippi Senate suspended its work on Wednesday as weather sirens blared during a tornado watch in central Jackson, the state’s capital. Some employees took shelter in the Capitol basement.

Earlier on Wednesday, a tornado that struck Springdale, Arkansas, and the adjoining town of Johnson, about 235 kilometres north-west of Little Rock, shortly after 4am injured seven people, two critically, Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said.

Mr Sprouse said that one of those critically injured had improved and was in stable condition and the other five were released from hospital.

In north-west Missouri, an EF-1 tornado with wind speeds of about 145 kilometres per hour struck St Joseph on Tuesday night, damaging two homes.

A small tornado also touched down briefly on the eastern edge of Dallas, Texas, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth said. The tornado struck a little after 4.30am on Wednesday near McClendon-Chisolm with top winds of about 161kph and damaged homes, but no injuries were reported, the weather service said.

The storms come a week after a tornado in a New Orleans, Louisiana-area neighbourhood carved a path of destruction during the overnight hours and killed a man.

Strong winds in Louisiana overturned lorries, peeled the roof from a mobile home, sent a tree crashing into a home and knocked down power lines, said weather service forecasters, who did not immediately confirm any tornadoes in the state.

The National Weather Service office in New Orleans said on Thursday that the highest wind speed recorded in the office’s coverage area was 108kph at the New Orleans Lakefront airport with winds in Baton Rouge reaching into the high 80kph range.

Firemen, meanwhile, have been trying to get handle on a wildfire spreading near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, amid mandatory evacuations as winds whipped up before the approaching storm front.

The fire, which was not contained, had expanded to more than 100 hectares as of Wednesday afternoon. One person was injured and a plume of smoke rose above one community not far from the tourism town of Gatlinburg.

Meanwhile, a tornado that killed a man near New Orleans, Louisiana, last week was the metro area’s second strongest on record, the National Weather Service said on Thursday.

Its winds hit 257kph on Tuesday night in the suburban St Bernard Parish community of Arabi, making it an EF-3 tornado, a preliminary report released on Thursday said.

Tuesday’s twister damaged nearly 300 buildings in St Bernard Parish, demolishing 41 of them and doing major damage to another 92, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said on Thursday. His office said Orleans and Jefferson parish officials didn’t ask for damage assessments.

The weather service said the tornado started on the Mississippi River’s west bank and moved through neighbourhoods in Jefferson and Orleans parishes. It then crossed the river into Arabi, where weather service teams found two areas of EF-3 activity. From there it continued north-east into eastern New Orleans.

In Arabi, it picked up a house and moved it into the street, trapping a girl who was on a breathing machine. Firemen rescued her.

“The house itself held together but was shifted about 46 metres to the north and rotated about 90 degrees,” the report said. “The house next door was also swept off the foundation, moved and mostly destroyed. This also had some evidence of strapping to the slab foundation.”

Former first daughter Ivanka Trump made an appearance alongside Mercy Chefs' Chef Jay Bachman at Aycock Barn in Arabi on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, where she helped prepare and package about 500 meals for people in need. Ms Trump even delivered one.

Updated: April 01, 2022, 4:06 AM
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