Tornadoes that swept through the Dallas, Texas area caused substantial damage and at least 11 people died either from the storm or related traffic accidents and dozens of people were injured.
It’s the latest of a succession of freakish winter-weather events across the country that could include heavy snow and massive flooding Sunday from north Texas through eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, western Arkansas and parts of Missouri. Days of tumultuous weather in the Southeast have led to 29 deaths overall – those in Texas plus 18 total in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas.
The full extent of damage in Texas isn’t yet known along a nearly 40-mile stretch from 20 miles south of Dallas to northeast of the city, though there were reports of it blowing the roofs off homes, mangling vehicles, damaging churches, downing power lines and toppling trees.
National Weather Service survey teams headed out Sunday to determine the number and strength of the tornadoes, of which meteorologist Matt Bishop believed there were multiple. Bishop says the tornado outbreak at this time of the year for North Texas occurs “from time to time … but it’s certainly not something that happens regularly.”
Garland Police Lt. Pedro Barineau said Sunday morning that eight people have died and 15 were injured in Garland, which is about 20 miles northeast of Dallas. That death toll went up by three since Saturday night.
“This is a huge impact on our community and we’re all suffering,” he said.
Barineau said the single tornado hit about 6:45 p.m. and damage stretches across an area of 2 square miles, and was near the intersection of Interstate 30 and George Bush Turnpike, which is a major route in the region. At least three people who died were found in vehicles, said Barineau, who also noted that some cars appeared to be thrown from the interstate, though it wasn’t known whether that was the case for the people found in the vehicles.
About 600 structures were damaged, the majority of which were single-family homes. “Driving around the area, you can see that it’s total devastation,” Barineau said.
In the town of Rowlett near Garland, City Manager Brian Funderburk said Sunday morning that 23 people were injured, though the extent of their injuries weren’t known, but that there were no deaths and no reports of missing people.
Dale Vermurlen lived in a Rowlett neighborhood that sustained heavy damage. His house only had minor damage, but was next to that were flattened.
“I grabbed both dogs by the collars and held on to the toilet. I said `OK this could be it boys.”‘
Homes in the neighborhood that had been searched by emergency responders were marked with a black “X.” In some instances, it looked like homes had been picked up and set back down in a big pile. On one side of a street, windows were blown out, on the other side of the street, the homes were destroyed.
State troopers were blocking off roads, utility crews were restoring power and people walking around hushed and dazed.
Three other people died in Collin County, about 45 miles northeast of Dallas, according to sheriff’s deputy Chris Havey, although the circumstances were not immediately clear.
On the other side of Texas, a snowstorm accompanied by plunging temperatures, was expected to leave up to 16 inches of snow in West Texas and much of New Mexico through Sunday evening, according to NWS meteorologist Brendon Rubin-Oster in College Park, Maryland.
“It’s going to be quite dangerous for anyone exposed to these elements,” Rubin-Oster said.
In far West Texas, up to four inches of snow fell overnight in the Alpine area, with foot-deep drifts reported.
Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said the snow caused 178 weather-related accidents by Saturday night, with about 58 involving people with injuries. Officials also shut down a stretch of Interstate 40 leading to the Texas border because of hazardous driving conditions. The National Weather Service said snow drifts more than 7 feet high have been reported.
In the Southeast, two more deaths linked to weather were reported Saturday in Mississippi, bringing that state’s death toll from severe weather over Christmas to 10. Late Saturday, one death was reported in Alabama.
Flash flooding closed roads across Alabama and trapped motorists in rapidly rising waters. Ranager Tyler and his son waded into flood water Christmas night and used rope to pull an 11-year-old boy out after his family’s car was swept away near Pinson, about 15 miles northeast of Birmingham.
“The little boy was hanging on to the back of the car,” Tyler said Saturday.
The family’s car was overcome with flood water and ended up in a ditch near Tyler’s Pinson home. The rushing water separated the family as they got out of the car, he said, but the boy was later reunited with his family.
The flooding is the result of heavy downpours that have thrashed the southeastern U.S. since Wednesday, bringing record rainfalls in some areas.
Better weather was forecast for the Southeast on Sunday, and temperatures in the eastern third of the country could set numerous records highs, Rubin-Oster said. Washington, D.C., could see a record daily temperature of 73 degrees, New York City 65 – which would break a record of more than 50 years – and Orlando, Florida could tie a record of 86 degrees set in 1921.
Associated Press writers Maud Beelman and Nomaan Merchant in Dallas; Seth Robbins in San Antonio, Texas; Michael Graczyk in Houston; Chevel Johnson in New Orleans; and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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