2 dead as storms fray nerves in hurricane-tossed Gulf Coast
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — At least two people were dead after powerful storms blew through the Gulf Coast region Thursday, jangling the nerves of people whose lives were ripped apart by Hurricane Michael less than a month ago.
At least 12 tornadoes had been confirmed by Thursday night in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, with the damage surveys expected to continue Friday.
Storms covered a wide area of the country reaching from beaches to the Great Lakes, but howling wind and driving rain threw a particular scare into the Florida Panhandle, which is still reeling from Michael.
Disaster centers helping with the hurricane recovery closed ahead of the storms, and authorities worried that winds gusting up to 60 mph (97 kph) could topple trees or limbs weakened by the Category 4 hurricane. Hundreds of homes protected only by flimsy tarps were particularly vulnerable.
No serious problems were reported, at least initially, and Mayor Margo Anderson of hard-hit Lynn Haven, Florida, said residents have had enough bad weather for a while.
“I think people are not wanting to see more wind and rain,” she said. “It puts everyone on edge. It’s frightening.”
The Storm Prediction Center reported downed trees and utility lines from eastern Texas to northwest Alabama. The Southeastern storms left nearly 110,000 homes and businesses without electricity at the height, and both weather-related deaths occurred in wrecks.
In Texas, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook that Deputy Loren Vasquez, 23, had been on solo patrol for only three nights when her patrol car ran into water on a road and flipped late Wednesday while answering a rescue call.
Other deputies tried to free her from the overturned vehicle but couldn’t.
“Words will never express what our office is going thru and we can only ask for your prayers,” Sheriff R. Glenn Smith said in a statement posted on the site.
In Mississippi, the Department of Public Safety said Alcorn State University student Jayla A. Gray, 19, of Jackson died early Thursday when the car in which she was a passenger struck a tree that had fallen across a highway near the town of Port Gibson, which is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southwest of the capital of Jackson.
The driver and another passenger escaped injury, the agency said in a statement. Public Safety spokesman Kervin Stewart said the three were returning to campus after a Halloween party and early-morning meal; Gray was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the wreck.
Troopers said weather was a factor in the wreck, which happened just minutes after a storm toppled trees near Kevin Bryant’s mobile home a few miles away in Port Gibson. Daybreak revealed a shattered community littered with broken trees and pieces of buildings, said Bryant.
“It tore up trees and old businesses that had been sitting awhile. Everybody is without power,” he said. ” ... That wind was howling.”
Damage was heavy in nearby Natchez, where some people spent most of the day trying to cut up trees that fell on houses. Among the seven tornadoes confirmed in Mississippi were two in Adams County, which includes Natchez, and one in Claiborne County, which includes Port Gibson.
In Louisiana, a pair of twisters with top winds of 115 mph (185 kph) hit Washington Parish, north of New Orleans. Near Bogalusa, a mobile home rolled over, injuring two occupants. Two weaker tornadoes were also confirmed in and around Lake Charles, including one that damaged a vacant shopping center near McNeese State University.
Four people had to be rescued in Tangipahoa Parish when four mobile homes were destroyed by falling trees, and 10 homes near Covington were damaged. Two schools in Beauregard Parish were closed due to damage, and a home also was hit.
High winds downed power lines and flipped trampolines in east Texas before the storms entered the Southeast. A possible tornado blew out windows at a Walmart store in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and damaged cars outside, but no one was hurt, news outlets reported.
In northwest Alabama, surveyors said a weak tornado with top winds of 65 mph (105 kph) caused tree damage near the Franklin County crossroads of Pogo.
Storms toppled tents being set up for an oyster cook-off planned for this weekend in Gulf Shores, Alabama, although surveyors said they found only straight-line winds in that part of Alabama. Powerful gusts stripped leaves from trees near Birmingham.
Multiple school systems in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi canceled or delayed classes because of the weather threat.
AP writers Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina; David Warren in Dallas; Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi; and Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.
This story has corrected the spelling of Alcorn State University.