PERRYTON, Texas—Cleanup efforts continued June 16 after severe storms—including some that produced tornadoes—tore across a swath of Southern states, killing at least five people as they destroyed hundreds of homes, tossed vehicles into buildings and left hundreds of thousands without electricity.
In Perryton in the Texas Panhandle, Ochiltree County Sheriff Terry Bouchard said three people were killed when the tornado struck the afternoon of June 15. Another person died that night in the Florida Panhandle when at least one confirmed tornado cut through Escambia County, toppling a tree onto a home, county spokesperson Andie Gibson told the Pensacola News Journal.
Also, a Mississippi man died after a tree fell on him during stormy weather early June 16. Canton Police Chief Otha Brown told WLBT-TV the man was killed after high winds toppled over a tree onto his carport as he was entering his car.
In Texas, of the homes searched so far in Perryton, all but one occupant had been accounted for, so the main priority was going back over the area and the debris field to find that person, Perryton Fire Chief Paul Dutcher said on NBC’s “Today” show.
Dutcher estimated that 150 to 200 homes in the community had been destroyed and said that in the downtown area, many storefronts were totally wiped off and buildings had collapsed or partially collapsed.
When the storm first approached Sabrina Devers’ ranch about three miles north of Perryton, she told Fox Weather it brought golf ball-sized, then softball-sized hail and Devers said she could then see a tornado. After the tornado moved away, Devers went into the town to check on their store.
“The devastation was unbelievable. It took a tanker truck and threw it into a pasture,” Devers said. Power lines were knocked down and buildings were flattened in the town of about 8,000 about 115 miles northeast of Amarillo, just south of the Oklahoma line.
The National Weather Service in Amarillo was sending a survey team to assess damage and determine the tornado rating in the Perryton area, meteorologist Brett Muscha said.
More thunderstorms were possible in the far northern Texas Panhandle and the Oklahoma Panhandle the afternoon and night of June 16, Muscha said.
The greatest chance of strong and severe storms was on the Oklahoma side with golf ball-size hail and 60 mph wind gusts, Muscha said.
Ochiltree General Hospital treated 115 patients suffering minor to major injuries, including head injuries, collapsed lungs, lacerations and broken bones, according to a Facebook post.
After hitting Perryton, the storm system moved into Oklahoma, spawning several more suspected twisters in addition to high winds and large hail.
Observations Program Leader Forrest Mitchell at the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, said survey crews were expected to head out June 16 to southwest and west central Oklahoma and western North Texas to investigate possible tornados.
Nearly 590,000 customers were without electricity in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma the morning of June 16, according to the poweroutage.us website.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said June 15, he had directed the state Division of Emergency Management to help with everything from traffic control to restoring water and other utilities, if needed.
Meanwhile, flash flooding was reported in Pensacola, Florida, where between 12 and 16 inches of rain has fallen since the evening of June 15, said Caitlin Baldwin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Mobile in Pensacola.
In West Pensacola, flash floodwaters surrounded an apartment complex that was evacuated of all its 146 residents. Boats were used to remove some and take them to a local community center, said Davis Wood, public information officer for Escambia County Public Safety.
No injuries were reported in that evacuation.
The storm system also brought hail and possible tornados to northwestern Ohio.
It was the second consecutive day that powerful storms struck the U.S. and comes as spring nears its end, not a typical time of year for tornadic activity, but not rare, according to meteorologist Matt Mosier at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman.
“You expect thunderstorms this time of year,” Mosier said. “It’s definitely not rare, but tornadoes are not on a lot of people’s minds because they’ve just kind of moved away from the season that they’re typically focused on (tornadoes).”
The week has been very warm with moist, unstable conditions that combined with strong wind shear, which is abnormal for this time of year, Mosier said.
“Thunderstorms are not uncommon at all, but to get storms that were producing very large, I mean, two- to three-inch hail, day after day—that is abnormal,” Mosier said.
Also in Texas and Southern states including Louisiana, heat advisories were in effect June 16 and were forecast into the Juneteenth holiday weekend with temperatures reaching toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was expected to feel as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. (AP)