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Dozens killed as wild weather sweeps across southern and central US / VÍDEO

Dozens killed as wild weather sweeps across southern and central US

At least 43 people have been killed in Christmas weekend storms
State of emergency declared in Missouri and New Mexico
Tornadoes rip through Dallas area, killing 11 people
Another 13 die in Illinois and Missouri flash flooding

Staff and agencies
Monday 28 December 2015 01.08 GMT

At least 43 people have been killed after storms hit southern and central US states over the Christmas holiday, unleashing floods and tornadoes, flattening buildings, blowing vehicles off highways and snarling transportation for millions.

The weather prompted the governors of Missouri and New Mexico to declare a state of emergency for their states on Sunday.

In the Dallas area, 11 people were left dead by tornadoes over the weekend, including one packing winds of up to 200 miles per hour (322 kmh). The twister hit the city of Garland, killing eight people and blowing vehicles off highways.

“A tornado of that strength is very rare in a metropolitan area,” National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Bishop told Reuters. Powerful tornadoes are a staple of spring and summer in central states but occur less frequently in winter, according to U.S. weather data.

“It is total devastation,” Garland police spokesman Lieutenant Pedro Barineau said. “It is a very difficult time to be struck by such a horrible storm the day after Christmas.”

It was the latest of a succession of powerful weather events across the country, from heavy snow in New Mexico, west Texas and the Oklahoma panhandle to flash flooding in parts of the plains and midwest.

In addition to the Texas fatalities, flash flooding killed at least 13 people in Illinois and Missouri, officials and local media reported on Sunday.

Six adults drowned when they drove their cars into flooded waterways in Missouri’s Pulaski county, said county sheriff Ron Long.

In neighboring Illinois, Salem-based radio station WJBD reported a family of three adults and two children was driving near the village of Patoka, 85 miles (137 km)east of St. Louis, Missouri, when their car was washed away by floodwaters.

The death toll in the south-east linked to severe weather rose to 19 on Sunday when Alabama authorities found the body of a 22-year-old man whose vehicle was swept away while attempting to cross a bridge; a five-year-old died in the same incident. Ten people have died in Mississippi, and six died in Tennessee. One person was killed in Arkansas.

The full extent of damage along a nearly 40-mile stretch near Dallas was becoming clear Sunday: houses destroyed, vehicles mangled, power lines down and trees toppled. Heavy rain and wind hampered cleanup efforts on Sunday afternoon.

“This is a huge impact on our community and we’re all suffering,” Barineau said of the community about 20 miles north-east of Dallas, where eight people died, 15 were injured and about 600 structures, mostly single-family homes, were damaged.

The weather service said an EF-4 tornado, which is the second-most powerful with winds up to more than 200mph, hit the community at about 6.45pm on Saturday. It 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 have been thrown from the interstate, though it wasn’t known whether that was the case for the people found in the vehicles.

Natalie Guzman, 33, took photos of her family’s home in a Garland neighborhood. The garage wall had collapsed and the roof fell in. The only part of the house that appeared to be spared was the master bathroom, where her brother-in-law took shelter Saturday night. He was the only one at home and told her he had just enough time to get himself and his dogs into the bathroom.

“It was worse than I thought,” Guzman said, comparing the scene to the photos her brother-in-law had sent the night before.

The destruction in Garland was so overwhelming that Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins declared the city a disaster within mere minutes of seeing the toll first-hand.

“I don’t declare local disasters lightly,” Jenkins said. “But I looked at the scene for 10 minutes, spoke to the incident commander and then called the lawyers to bring the paperwork.”

In the nearby town of Rowlett, city manager Brian Funderburk said Sunday morning that 23 people were injured, but that there were no deaths and no reports of missing people. The weather service said damage indicated it was likely an EF-3 tornado, which has winds up to 165 mph.

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. State troopers were blocking off roads, utility crews were restoring power and people were 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

Weather service meteorologist Matt Bishop in the Fort Worth office said 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”.

On the other side of the state, a snowstorm was accompanied by plunging temperatures. In far west Texas, up to four inches of snow fell overnight in the Alpine area, with foot-deep drifts reported. Parts of Interstate 40 on the Texas-New Mexico border were closed Sunday due to snow. Texas department of transportation spokesman Paul Braun told the Amarillo Globe-News that crews are doing what they can to plow the drifts, which occurred even though there were only about 3in of snow. They “go through and it blows it right back,” he said.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, received about 6in of snow and saw nearly 200 weather-related accidents Saturday. Meanwhile, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency as there were blizzard conditions and an ice storm warning out west and flood warnings in the east.

Amanda Holpuch contributed to this report.

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