2 dead, thousands without power as storms hit Deep South
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Storms moving across the Gulf Coast region with howling wind and pounding rain were blamed for at least two deaths and left nearly 110,000 homes and businesses without electricity early Thursday.
A Texas sheriff’s deputy answering a call about a water rescue died after her patrol car ran into floodwaters covering a road and landed upside down, authorities said, and a Mississippi college student died in another weather-related wreck.
At least two other people were sent to a hospital because of a possible tornado touchdown in Louisiana, and forecasters said the weather threat would last hours more.
The Storm Prediction Center reported trees and utility lines down across a wide area from eastern Texas to northwest Alabama, and radar showed storms reaching from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley. The storms were linked to a cold front that sent temperatures sharply lower once the line passed.
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,” said a statement by Sheriff R. Glenn Smith posted on the site.
The system moved on to Mississippi, where the Department of Public Safety said Alcon 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 (96 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. “It definitely woke you up. That wind was howling.”
Bryant wasn’t hurt, but two people were taken to a hospital when a mobile home that flipped west of Bogalusa, Louisiana, said Bobbi Jo Breland, assistant director of the Washington Parish office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said in an email. She did not know the extent of their injuries.
A roof collapsed on a nearby home and one person had to be rescued there, Breland said.
High winds downed power lines and flipped trampolines in east Texas before the storms entered the Southeast. News outlets reported that a possible tornado blew out windows at a Walmart store in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and damaged cars outside, but no one was hurt.
Storms toppled tents being set up for an oyster cook-off planned for this weekend in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and powerful gusts stripped leaves from trees near Birmingham.
Forecasters said the storms would bring a threat of tornados, winds blowing to 60 mph (97 kph) and drenching rains that could cause flash floods. The line was expected to move into Georgia later Thursday.
At least 110,000 customers were without power as the storms moved eastward, but crews restored electricity to thousands as conditions improved. The biggest problems were in central and eastern Louisiana and western Mississippi.
Schools were delayed in the New Orleans area and other parts of southeastern Louisiana. Multiple school systems in Alabama and Mississippi canceled or delayed classes because of the weather threat.
Classes were cancelled in Mississippi’s Natchez-Adams School District after storms damaged homes and tore down trees.
AP writers Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina, and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.