Severe storms sweeping across parts of the U.S. South were blamed Saturday in the deaths of at least nine people, including two first responders, as high winds, tornadoes and unrelenting rain battered a large area of the region.
Storm-related fatalities were reported in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.
Two first responders were killed and another was critically injured in Lubbock, Texas, Saturday morning after they were hit by a vehicle while working the scene of a traffic accident in icy conditions, officials said.
Police Officer Nicholas Reyna, 27, who had been with the department for one year, died at the scene. Firefighter Lt. David Hill, 39, was taken to a local hospital where he later died. Firefighter Matthew Dawson, 30, was hospitalized in critical condition.
Lubbock Police Chief Floyd Mitchell called it an “extremely tragic day” for the city.
Another person had died in Texas Friday night when a car flipped into a creek in Dallas as severe thunderstorms passed through. Lightning from Friday’s stormy weather was suspected of causing fires that burned two houses by caused no injuries in the North Texas cities of Burleson and Mansfield.
In Alabama, three people were confirmed killed near Carrollton in Pickens County, the National Weather Service in Birmingham said on Twitter. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said the deaths were caused by an “embedded tornado within a long line of intense thunderstorms.”
Earlier Saturday, in northwestern Louisiana, firefighters found the bodies of an elderly couple near their demolished trailer in Benton, the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office said via Facebook. The winds were so strong the home of the couple, who were the in-laws of a parish deputy, was moved 200 feet from its foundation.
The National Weather Service in Shreveport said a tornado with winds of around 135 mph (217 kph) had touched down in Bossier Parish
Also in Louisiana, Raymond Holden, 75, was killed in his bed when a tree fell on his home in Oil City, crushing him, according to the Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office.
More than 139,000 people were without power in Alabama, according to Alabama Power. According to PowerOutage.us, Mississippi had more than 39,000 power outages Saturday afternoon. About 20,000 customers were without power in Louisiana. Outages were reported from Texas to Michigan.
In Tennessee, Memphis Light, Gas and Water said about 23,000 customers were without power Saturday morning. Damage was widespread throughout Shelby County, Tennessee’s most populous county that includes Memphis, including downed trees and power poles, some of which will need to be replaced, according to the utility.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation reported Saturday morning that portions of several highways in the southeastern part of the state were closed due to flooding. The Arkansas Department of Transportation reported that portions of several state highways across the state, particularly in the southeastern portion of Arkansas were closed due to downed trees and power lines and to flooding.
On Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Baldwin County canceled school activities including sporting events for Saturday. The National Weather Service warned of high winds and flooding and the potential for 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) waves on beaches, where northern visitors escaping the cold are a common sight during the winter.
Many streams already are at or near flood levels because of earlier storms, and heavy rains could lead to flash flooding across the region, forecasters said. Parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were under flash flood warnings or watches on Saturday.
The storm, bringing the threat of ice and snow to the Chicago area, prompted the cancellation of about 1,000 flights Saturday at Chicago’s two main airports.
The Chicago Department of Aviation’s online flight-tracking website showed that as of 10:30 a.m. Saturday about 950 flight cancellations were reported at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and more than 50 flights had been canceled at Midway International Airport.
Delays at O’Hare and Midway were averaging around 15 minutes, the department said.
The weather service issued a winter weather advisory, flood watch and lakeshore flood warning for the Chicago metropolitan area for Saturday and a winter storm warning for adjacent areas of northwestern Illinois.
The weather service said rain, possibly mixed with snow, freezing rain and sleet was expected through Saturday afternoon in the Chicago area before changing by evening over to snow and sleet, possibly mixed with freezing rain.
Breezy conditions were forecast with gusts as high as 45 mph (72 kph).