50 million under severe storm threat Friday as one Texas town digs out after a deadly tornado

More than 50 million people across a large swath of the United States are under a severe weather threat Friday, one day after storms cut a deadly path across Texas, Florida and Mississippi.

One person has died after severe weather swept through Mississippi overnight, the Mississippi Department of Emergency Management said in a release. Preliminary reports show that more than 70 homes have been damaged.

A person in Florida died after being trapped under a tree that fell on their home, Escambia County officials said.

The county, which includes Pensacola, was hit with flash flooding emergencies overnight, leading to high water rescues, the National Weather Service in Mobile, Alabama, reported early Friday, citing local rescuers.

“Widespread and significant” flash flooding was continuing in West Pensacola, Warrington and Gulf Breeze, Escambia County Emergency Management said. “Numerous roadways remain flooded with water entering several structures,” emergency officials said.

Nearly 150 residents of an apartment complex in Pensacola were moved amid the rising water Friday morning and taken to a community center for shelter, county officials said.

Warrington, just south of Pensacola, got nearly a foot of rain in just three hours. Radar estimates indicate as much as 16 inches of rain fell overnight, and more is expected Friday. A flash flood watch is in effect for the area until 7 p.m.

Many of the areas that saw severe conditions Thursday could see storms return as a level 2 of 5 slight risk of severe storms is in place for parts of the South, Mid-Atlantic and Southern Plains.

Large hail, damaging winds and tornadoes are possible in the slight risk areas, which include Montgomery and Mobile in Alabama, Little Rock, Arkansas; Jackson, Mississippi; and Tallahassee, Florida.

A marginal, level 1 of 5 risk is in place from South Dakota to Florida and for parts of the Mid-Atlantic. Cities in the marginal risk area, which could see large hail and damaging winds, include Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Denver and Jacksonville, Florida.

The destructive tornado that swept through Perryton, Texas, was rated an EF3 that packed estimated peak winds of 140 mph, according to preliminary findings from the NWS. It touched down for about 11 minutes and traveled for a length of more than six miles.

The tornado damaged homes and businesses in the town of some 8,000 residents, including the local fire department and EMS, as well as multiple mobile homes, Dutcher said, noting many of the department’s trucks were damaged.

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“There was a time I thought I was going to die,” she said. “Everything went crazy. Dumpsters were flying, hailstones hitting the car.”

James’ home is still standing but the structure next to it is destroyed. She said the tornado is a devastating blow to the city she’s lived in for 15 years. “So many good people in this town. … We look out for one another.”

The city’s power facilities were shutoff for safety purposes, according to Xcel Energy.

“Transmission lines supplying the city with electricity have sustained damage and many lower voltage distribution lines are down in the city,” said Wes Reeves, a spokesperson for Xcel Energy.

“Xcel Energy personnel are working to ensure the safety of Perryton residents and first responders. An estimated time of restoration is not yet available,” he added.

As of 11 p.m. CT Friday, more than 175,000 homes and businesses across Texas were in the dark, according to the tracking website Poweroutage.us. In neighboring Louisiana, more than 130,000 were without power, and outages were also reported in Oklahoma, Virginia and Alabama.

And in Mississippi, more than 100,000 customers remained without power Friday night, according to Poweroutage.us.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for communities impacted by the severe storms and tornadoes in Ochiltree and Cass counties, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“The disaster declaration will further support Texas’ recovery efforts in response to extensive damage in those counties,” the news release read. “Additional counties may be added to the declaration as damage assessments are completed.”

The disaster declaration will help streamline the state’s ability to assist local officials recover and rebuild their communities, according to the governor.

Abbott also deployed state emergency resources to “meet urgent life-safety needs in Perryton, Texas,” according to a news release from his office.

“We remain ready to quickly provide any additional resources needed over the course of this severe weather event,” the governor noted in the statement.

Resources from surrounding areas have poured into the city to provide much-needed assistance.

Officials in Beaver County, Oklahoma, sent fire, law enforcement and EMS units to help, according to the county’s emergency manager Keith Shadden.

Neighboring city officials in Stinnett, Texas, also began sending officers and EMS crews. The sheriff’s office in Hutchinson County — which includes Stinnett — also sent rescue and emergency operations following the “devastating tornado,” according to a Facebook post from the office.

Medical help also came from staff at nearby hospitals who swiftly aided up to 100 people after the tornado struck, Ochiltree General Hospital Interim CEO Kelly Judice said.

“A few of them took patients to their hospitals, most of the staff just stayed here and worked,” she added.

On Thursday, there were two tornado reports in Texas, four in Oklahoma and one in Michigan, according to the National Weather Service, with the tornado in Perryton being the most significant.

‘People lost everything today’

The tornado, which was confirmed by the NWS, cut through some of Perryton’s main sections.

The worst damages he saw were in the northwest part of town, where the tornado barreled toward a mobile home park directly in its path, Emfinger explained.

“The storm produced a wall cloud very quickly, and that wall cloud tightened up very rapidly, and then it just went to the ground very quickly,” Emfinger added.

Perryton’s fire department said via Facebook that one of their buildings was severely damaged.

“The Fire Department took a direct hit, [but] our trucks and ambulances are driveable!” the fire department said.

They also shared photos showing a fire station missing its roof and debris strewn throughout the building.

“We have the gym space, and we have the capabilities to help the people that have lost everything and we’re more than willing to do that,” he said. “Sadly, there’s just not a list of things. … You think about that you need on hand, but people lost everything today.”

US Rep. Ronny Jackson, who represents Perryton, said the community needs help.

“If you are in the area, I ask that you do whatever you can to help your neighbors. Food, fuel, water, generators – anything you can.”

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