Thursday 17 August 2017

Christmas tornadoes leave trail of death and devastation

Phyllis Evans gets a hug from friend Harvey Payne after he arrived to check on her at her devastated Mississippi home
Phyllis Evans gets a hug from friend Harvey Payne after he arrived to check on her at her devastated Mississippi home

Phillip Lucas in Mississippi

Tornadoes brought Christmas Eve havoc to the southern US, killing at least 14 people and damaging or destroying dozens of homes.

Instead of doing some last-minute shopping or wrapping gifts, families were taking stock of their losses after an unusual outbreak of violent weather on Christmas Eve.

In Benton County, Mississippi, four people - including a married couple and two neighbours on the same street - were confirmed dead and their homes destroyed.

"Santa brought us a good one, didn't he?" Bobby Watkins said as he and his wife took a walk amid the destruction.

"I may have lost some stuff, but I got my life."

Unseasonably warm weather helped spawn twisters from Arkansas to Michigan.

The line of spring-like storms continued marching east on Christmas Eve, dumping torrential rain that flooded roads in Alabama and caused a mudslide in the mountains of Georgia. Authorities confirmed seven deaths in Mississippi, including a seven-year-old boy who was in a car that was hit by a storm. Six more died in Tennessee. One person was killed in Arkansas.

Dozens more were injured, some seriously, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Search teams combed damaged homes and businesses for people still missing - including at least one man in hard-hit Benton County. The hunt was made complicated because so many had left for the Christmas break.

"Until they know for sure where those folks are, they're going to keep looking - because we've had houses levelled in some cases, and they're just not there anymore," Mr Flynn said.

Peak tornado season in the US south is in the spring, but such storms can happen at any time. Exactly a year ago, twisters hit Mississippi, killing five people and injuring dozens.

Irish Independent

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