The storm system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Texas and Louisiana will continue to move east Wednesday, leaving a large swath of the country under threat of more severe weather.
More than 65 million people, from central Florida to southern Michigan and east to coastal Virginia, are at slight risk of severe weather on Wednesday, including the possibility of large hail, gusty winds and tornadoes, said Citizen Free Press meteorologist Robert Shackelford.
Cities in the threat area include Columbus, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Savannah, Georgia; and Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, in North Carolina.
The storm system has already blazed a path of destruction in Texas, where 25 tornadoes touched down Monday, including two that damaged about 1,000 homes in Williamson County near Austin, officials said.
A 73-year-old woman was killed in Grayson County, north of Dallas, when her home was destroyed by the storm, local officials said.
On Tuesday, a deadly tornado tore through the New Orleans area, killing at least one person, authorities said. Widespread destruction was reported in the area.
The greatest risk for tornadoes this Wednesday is in the Florida panhandle, southeast Georgia and the Carolinas, Shackelford said. There is also a higher chance of damaging winds and hail in eastern Indiana and central Ohio.
More than 3 million people in Alabama and the Florida panhandle were under a tornado watch as of 6 a.m., according to the National Weather Service, including those in Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama, and Panama City, Florida.
The system racked up more than 175 storm reports in a 48-hour period, Shackelford said. It also caused widespread rainfall totals of 2 to 10 centimeters in parts of the South, with some areas of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama seeing 4 to 20 centimeters.
Deadly tornado rips through New Orleans area
As forecasters track the storm system’s eastward movement, crews in the New Orleans area are assessing the damage it left in its wake.
The Lower Ninth Ward and eastern New Orleans were hit by a tornado just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell said, and rescue teams dug through the destruction overnight.
One person has died in the Arabi neighborhood of the St. Bernard District, District President Guy McInnis told Citizen Free Press.
“We have some houses that were razed. We have houses that were lifted and put on the street,” McInnis said of his community, which borders the Orleans district, home to New Orleans’ iconic French Quarter.
“The area that I’ve seen tonight is totally devastated in some of our neighborhoods,” McInnis told Citizen Free Press’s Don Lemon.
McInnis said he didn’t have a firm number of injuries yet, but there are reports of several residents seeking treatment.
“We have a long night ahead of us and a long road to recovery, but I am confident that we will get everything done here quickly for our citizens,” McInnis said.
There were still no reports of casualties or significant damage in the Orleans district, Cantrell said Tuesday night. New Orleans Police, Fire and Emergency Services Departments were preparing to help in the St. Bernard district, he added.
“Residents should avoid all non-essential travel to provide an opportunity for professionals to manage this situation,” Cantrell said in the statement.
Dozens of tornadoes touched down in Texas
The storm system threatened Texas on Monday with at least 25 tornadoes reported across the state, which was already dealing with dozens of active wildfires.
Two tornadoes in Williamson County, near Austin, opened a 20-mile-long damage path, according to the county executive leader. “We think there are somewhere in the neighborhood 1,000 houses that have been damaged or completely destroyed,” County Judge Bill Gravell said at a news conference.
“I think we’ll be absolutely shocked at how many homes have been destroyed,” said state Rep. Terry Wilson.
In Jack County, northwest of the Fort Worth area, between 60 and 80 homes were destroyed, local officials said. The National Weather Service determined that there was an EF-3 tornado, with winds between 225 and 241 km/h.
“Many of our homes have been totally demolished and families have been evicted from their places of residence,” said Jack County Judge Keith Umphress.
It was a miracle that more people were not injured, especially at Jacksboro Elementary School, which was home to a large number of students when a storm severely damaged the gym, said Jacksboro Fire Chief Jeremy Jennings.
The children were about to leave when officials ordered everyone back inside the school building, Jacksboro Police Chief Scott Haynes said.
The Jacksboro High School gymnasium was also heavily damaged and the facility will be unusable “for some time,” Jennings said.
“We are very blessed to have facilities that were designed to withstand a storm, the damage that we received from the storm,” Brad Burnett, superintendent of the Jacksboro Independent School District, told Citizen Free Press affiliate WFAA.
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