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Storms roll east after slamming South; 10 deaths reported

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Posted at 1:59 PM, Mar 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-04 13:59:19-05

(AP) — A large storm system took aim at the Northeast on Friday, threatening heavy snow and coastal flooding after heavy winds and possible tornadoes damaged homes and buildings, left thousands without power and caused 10 deaths in a wide swath of the South and Midwest.

Three people were killed by falling trees in Alabama as severe weather swept through the state. In Mississippi, a woman died inside her SUV after a rotted tree branch struck her vehicle, and in Arkansas a man drowned after he drove into high floodwaters. News outlets reported two people died in Tennessee when trees fell on them.

Three weather-related deaths also were reported in Kentucky in three different counties as storms with straight-line winds moved through the state. Gov. Andy Beshear had declared a state of emergency before the storm and on Friday evening the mayor of Louisville, Craig Greenberg, followed suit because of the severe storms, high winds, widespread damage and danger to lives and property.

"I encourage everyone in our community to exercise extreme caution this evening, and in the coming days – do not drive through standing water, do not approach downed power lines, or do anything that would put the lives of anyone at risk," Greenberg said in a Facebook post.

The National Weather Service in Louisville called the storm Friday "powerful and historic" with peak wind gusts between 60-80 mph (96-128 kph).

More than a million utility customers in Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan were without power Friday evening, according to poweroutage.us.

The storm barreled Friday afternoon into the Detroit area, quickly covering streets and roads beneath a layer of snow. The weather service said some areas could see blizzard conditions with snowfall approaching 3 inches (8 centimeters) per hour. The Detroit Metropolitan Airport closed Friday evening because of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.

Detroit-based DTE Energy reported more than 130,000 customers lost power Friday evening. It was the latest slap after ice storms last week left more than 600,000 homes and businesses without power.

The National Weather Service reported poor road conditions and numerous vehicle crashes across much of northwest Indiana because of heavy snowfall Friday afternoon.

The storm system was turning toward New England, where a mix of snow, sleet and rain was expected to start Friday night and last into Saturday, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a winter storm warning.

There's a chance of coastal flooding in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the storm could bring as much as 18 inches (45 centimeters) of snow to parts of New Hampshire and Maine. The storm will also bring strong winds that could cause power outages.

Airport officials in Portland, Maine, canceled several flights for Saturday ahead of the weather and some libraries and businesses in the region announced weekend closures. Still, with warmer weather expected to return by the end of the weekend, most New Englanders were taking the storm in stride.

It wasn't the same story in California, where the weather system slammed the state earlier in the week with as much as 10 feet (3 meters) of snow. Some residents in mountains east of Los Angeles will likely remain stranded in their homes for at least another week after the snowfall proved too much to handle for most plows.

Many residents of Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas emerged Friday to find their homes and businesses damaged and trees toppled by the reported tornadoes. Tens of thousands were without power and some were also without water.

In Alabama, a 70-year-old man sitting in his truck in Talledega County was killed when a tree fell onto his vehicle. A 43-year-old man in Lauderdale County and a man in Huntsville also were killed by falling trees Friday, local authorities said.

In Texas, winds brought down trees, ripped the roof off a grocery store in Little Elm, north of Dallas, and overturned four 18-wheelers along. Minor injuries were reported, police said.

Winds of nearly 80 mph (130 kph) were recorded near the Fort Worth suburb of Blue Mound. The roof of an apartment building in the suburb of Hurst was blown away, resident Michael Roberts told KDFW-TV.

"The whole building started shaking. ... The whole ceiling is gone," Roberts said. "It got really crazy."

Heavy rain was also reported in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, causing flooding in both states.

In southwest Arkansas, Betty Andrews told KSLA-TV that she and her husband took shelter in the bathroom of their mobile home while a tornado moved through.

"It was very scary. I opened the front door to look out and saw it coming. I grabbed Kevin and went and got into the bathtub," Andrews said. "We hunkered down, and I said some prayers until it passed."

They were OK but the home sustained major damage and the couple was temporarily trapped in the bathroom until a neighbor cleared debris from outside the door.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Minnesota and Wisconsin expected areas of freezing fog with less than a quarter mile of visibility into the weekend, the weather service said. In North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, highways could get up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow and 45 mph (72 kph) wind gusts on Sunday and Monday.