More Storms & Tornadoes Hit U.S.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) – As powerful storms continued to pummel the South on Wednesday, emergency officials said more than 20 people had died in weather-related incidents this week.

Governors in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee each declared a state of emergency, and in Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour declared a state of emergency for 39 counties.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency revised the state’s storm-related death count to five since Tuesday after one county amended its number. The state previously reported six deaths.

Severe weather in Mississippi damaged homes, downed trees and power lines and sparked flash flooding. At least 41 counties across the state reported weather-related damage.

One Mississippi death was a worker killed Wednesday in Yazoo County while removing a tree from a roadway, said spokesman Jeff Rent.

Alabama officials confirmed six fatalities as a result of the deadly weather that ripped through most of the state overnight.

Winds of 100 miles per hour pounded central Alabama early Wednesday, snapping trees across power lines, roads and buildings, said Mark Kelly, spokesman for the Jefferson County Emergency Management Office.

Approximately 245,000 customers were without power in the lower two-thirds of the state, said Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman.

The central counties of Shelby and Jefferson, which includes the state’s most populous city of Birmingham, had almost 150,000 households and businesses with outages.

In one suburban Birmingham neighborhood, a family was briefly trapped inside their home by fallen trees.

“As I was grabbing my daughter and running to the closet, trees hit the house,” said Lisa Hey, who estimated 90 percent of the trees in her neighborhood were uprooted.

In Arkansas, the Department of Emergency Management reported another fatality from this week’s storms, bringing the number of deaths in that state to 11.

Several parts of north Texas, including areas which have been charred by the state’s massive wildfires, also were pounded by tornadoes and severe thunderstorms Tuesday night.

“Numerous homes have been damaged or destroyed,” said Lieutenant Chuck Allen, emergency management coordinator in Van Zandt County, located about halfway between Dallas and Tyler.

Residents in Tennessee are coping with flooding, power outages and blocked roads. Twenty-six county school systems were closed on Wednesday, and the airport in Murfreesboro sustained damage.

“We’ve got pockets of trees down and localized flooding from west to east Tennessee,” said Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener. meteorologists said the Tennessee Valley will bear the brunt of tornadoes expected Wednesday.

The worst of the storms are expected midday and into the evening. The corridor from northern Mississippi and northern Alabama to southeastern Kentucky is likely to be the hardest hit, reported.

A powerful storm system in that region could spawn large and long-tracking tornadoes, meteorologists said.

“If strong tornadoes like this hit any populated area, they could result in complete destruction,” Meteorologist Heather Buchman said on the Web site.

Floods remain a big concern in several states, where days of rain and the melted snow from the winter’s heavy falls have caused rising rivers and saturated soils.

On Tuesday, the levee on the swollen Black River near Poplar Bluff in southeastern Missouri was breached south of the city, local officials said.

More than 1,000 people were evacuated on fears of flash flooding.

Flooding became more widespread in Arkansas on Wednesday after several days of intense storms. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department reported numerous road closures, including the partial collapse of a highway near Harrison.

Emergency officials in Tennessee are bracing for floods expected along the Mississippi River early next week.

The storms and flooding are the latest in the violent weather that has pummeled much of the mid-South this month. Two weeks ago at least 47 people died as storms tore a wide path from Oklahoma all the way to North Carolina.

(Additional reporting by Suzi Parker, Jim Forsyth, Leigh Coleman and Tim Ghianni; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)