The National Weather Service (NWS) reported three storm-related deaths in Alabama on Saturday, while officials in Texas said two first responders were killed at the scene of separate traffic accidents on icy roads.
The news brought to nine the number of people confirmed killed following severe storms across the US Gulf coast and south-eastern states.
The NWS in Birmingham said the deaths in Alabama occurred in Pickens county, where an “embedded tornado within a long line of intense thunderstorms” hit.
In Lubbock, Texas, two Lubbock firefighters and one Lubbock police officer were hit by a vehicle, officials said.
The first responders were at the scene of two accidents on Interstate 27 at around 8.30am when a vehicle traveling south crossed into the median and hit them. There had been snow in the Lubbock area as well as icy roadways.
The police officer, 27-year-old Nicholas Reyna, died at the scene. He had been with the police department for one year. The firefighters, 39-year-old Lt David Hill and 30-year-old Matthew Dawson, were transported to a local hospital. Hill was pronounced dead. Dawson was listed in critical condition and taken into surgery.
Lubbock police chief Floyd Mitchell said drivers should “slow down. They need to understand the road conditions are dangerous. We have people out there trying to protect them.”
Another fatality was reported in Texas after the storms arrived on Friday, while three people died in Louisiana.
One person died when a car flipped into a creek in Dallas.
In Louisiana, the Bossier parish sheriff’s office said an elderly couple were found dead near their demolished trailer. The winds were so strong, the home had been moved 200ft from its foundations.
In Oil City, the Caddo parish coroner’s office said, Raymond Holden was in bed when a tree fell on his home, crushing him.
The NWS in Shreveport estimated that a tornado, with about around 135mph winds, touched down in Bossier parish.
Sheriff Julian Whittington said a truck driver and a Benton police officer had a close call after being shocked by a downed power line.
“A power line was hanging across the road and an 18-wheeler truck ran into it and got hung up in it and the Benton officer got there to help him,” Whittington said. Both were expected to survive.
A search for more possible victims was under way.
On Saturday morning Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas were clear of the severe thunderstorms that had passed through the night before. Lightning from Friday’s storms was suspected of causing two house fires in the north Texas cities of Burleson and Mansfield. Officials said no one was injured.
Homes were damaged or destroyed in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas but no injuries were reported. Downed trees and power lines were widespread.
More than 85,000 people without power in Alabama, according to Alabama Power. According to PowerOutage.us, Mississippi had more than 61,0000 outages at midday on Saturday. About 35,000 were without power in Louisiana. Outages were reported from Texas to Michigan.
In Tennessee, Memphis Light, Gas and Water said about 23,000 customers were without power on Saturday morning. Damage was widespread throughout Shelby county, Tennessee’s most populous county that includes Memphis.
Entergy Arkansas reported nearly 42,000 outages on Saturday morning, mostly in the south-east of the state. Southwestern Electric Power reported nearly 5,000 customers in east Texas were without power.
The Oklahoma department of transportation reported that portions of several highways in the south-eastern part of the state were closed due to flooding. The Arkansas department of transportation reported that portions of several state highways, particularly in the south-east, were closed due to downed trees and power lines and to flooding.
On Alabama’s Gulf coast, the NWS warned of high winds and flooding and the potential for 10ft waves on beaches, where northern visitors escaping the cold are a common sight during the winter.
Parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were under flash flood warnings or watches on Saturday.
The threat of ice and snow in the Chicago area prompted the cancellation of about 1,000 flights on Saturday at the two main airports serving the Windy City. About 950 cancellations were reported at O’Hare International and more than 50 flights had been canceled at Midway International. Delays at O’Hare and Midway were averaging around 15 minutes, the department said.
The NWS issued a winter weather advisory, flood watch and lakeshore flood warning for the Chicago metropolitan area for Saturday and a winter storm warning for adjacent areas of north-western Illinois.