As officials searched for missing people and emergency crews worked to clean up damage in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, the threat of severe weather continued to loom on Christmas Eve. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center issued a tornado watch for parts of Georgia and Alabama.
The severe, springlike system spun off more than a dozen tornadoes Wednesday, according to the Storm Prediction Center — “but it was a single twister that did most of the damage,” CNN reported. The tornado, which “started in northern Mississippi and didn’t lift up until western Tennessee,” may have been on the ground for more than 100 miles.
At least six people in northern Mississippi were killed in the severe weather outbreak, according to the state’s Emergency Management Agency, and more than 40 injuries across the state were attributed to the storms.
“We pray the death toll does not rise,” Brett Carr, a spokesman for the agency, said in a Thursday morning email to The Post.
The death toll at the time stood at three. Hours later, as Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency, the agency announced that six storm-related deaths had been confirmed in Mississippi.
“Deborah and I send our thoughts and prayers to the families who have lost a loved one, those who are injured, and those who will now have to rebuild,” Bryant said in a statement.
One of the victims in the state was a 7-year-old boy, who died in Holly Springs, Miss., “when the storm picked up and tossed the car he was riding in,” according to the Associated Press.
According to the news service, video images showed that the tornado appeared to be on the ground for more than 10 minutes.
The National Weather Service said it may be the longest-track December tornado on record in the mid-South.
In Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency, three people died in the storms in two counties miles apart.
“Heavy rain remains on Tennessee’s eastern border and is expected to move out of the state today,” the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said Thursday morning.
The agency initially reported two deaths statewide, both in Perry County, and said a third fatality was confirmed overnight in Rhea County.
The Perry County Sheriff’s Office said Ann Yzaguirre, 69, and Antonio Yzaguirre, 70, were killed during the storms at their home in Linden, Tenn.
According to Nashville’s Fox affiliate, “the couple had just celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary” on Dec. 13.
In Arkansas, the Pope County Sheriff’s Office said 18-year-old Michaela Remus was killed when a tree was uprooted by high winds and heavy rain and crashed into the teen’s bedroom.
An 18-month-old toddler was also trapped in the house but was rescued by emergency responders, the sheriff’s office said.
“It’s terrible that this happened, especially at Christmas,” Sheriff Shane Jones said, according to the AP.
Mulester Johnson, 67, told the AP that he was inside his house in Holly Springs, Miss., when the storm struck.
The wind tore the back of his house from its foundation and multiple sheds were missing afterward, he said. Trees rested atop several trucks on his property, and slabs of brick walls were strewn throughout his yard after the storm.“The chimney is the only thing that saved us really,” he said.Johnson opened the door to what had been a bedroom and looked past his disheveled belongings to clusters of broken trees in the backyard. The room’s walls had been blown away.“This right here is a mess, but I can’t complain because we’re blessed,” he said. Johnson planned on staying with relatives Wednesday night and said no one inside the house was injured.
Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center told the AP that the threat of severe weather just before Christmas is unusual, but not unprecedented.
According to The Post’s Capital Weather Gang, scores of eastern U.S. cities are likely to shatter warm-weather records on Christmas Eve.
Dozens of records will fall, some by very large margins, chief meteorologist Jason Samenow said.
Temperatures at or above 70 degrees will span from Florida all the way into southern New England covering some 1,200 miles and 20 percent of the Lower 48.In many places in the East, temperatures will run some 30-40 degrees above normal.
The warmth, Samenow wrote, “is indirectly linked to the very strong El Niño event in which heat from abnormally warm waters in the tropical Pacific is infused into weather patterns over North America. In this case, the flow of air around high pressure centered over Bermuda is pumping deep tropical air straight up the East Coast.”
This post has been updated.