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December 1, 2023

Southern Tornadoes: 5 Killed as Storms Sweep Texas, Florida and Mississippi

Southern Tornadoes: 5 Killed as Storms Sweep Texas, Florida and Mississippi

A tornado destroyed a trailer park as it battered the Texas Panhandle city of Perryton, where three people died. Another person was killed in Florida. A fifth person died in Mississippi.




Deadly Tornado Rips Through Perryton, Texas

People assessing the damage in Perryton filmed the rubble of a bank, a fire department and a natural gas facility.

“This is the tornado. That’s Perryton in that direction, so we are three miles north of Perryton. Definitely major damage in Perryton.” “All this side of town is gone. Unfortunately, this looks like this bank building is totally destroyed. And fire and E.M.S., it is no more. Perryton Fire and E.M.S. is no more.” “West Texas Gas. This was their facility. Here is a truck. I don’t know where it came from. This whole area is just wiped out. You can clearly see where it ripped right through. Just off of Highway 15 on the south side.”

People assessing the damage in Perryton filmed the rubble of a bank, a fire department and a natural gas facility.CreditCredit…David Erickson/Associated Press

Residents of Perryton, Texas, sifted through piles of splintered plywood and mangled mobile homes on Friday in search of any belongings they could salvage — an Iron Man action figure, a spatula wedged in wet dirt, clothes caught on barbed wire — after a deadly tornado destroyed much of its downtown.

The tornado was part of a ferocious series of storms that swept across the South on Thursday, killing five people, including three in Perryton, the authorities said. There is a lower risk of tornadoes across the region through the weekend, but some areas could experience severe weather, including tornadoes, the National Weather Service said.

A severe thunderstorm watch for some counties in Alabama and Florida expired early Saturday morning. But as dawn neared, more than 400,000 electricity customers were still without power in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, according to the site poweroutage.us.

For people in Perryton, a Texas Panhandle community about 115 miles northeast of Amarillo, the scale of the loss was still coming into focus.

The town’s fire chief, Paul Dutcher, said the victims of Thursday’s storm included an 11-year-old boy and two women in their 60s, and that 100 others were injured. He said that the tornado made a direct hit on a mobile home park, and that no residents were missing.

Mr. Dutcher had previously told CNN that about 200 homes and the local firehouse had been destroyed. The Perryton Fire Department said on Facebook late Thursday that although the fire station “took a direct hit,” its trucks and ambulances were still operable.

About 50 to 75 patients were treated at Ochiltree General Hospital in Perryton, Kelly Judice, the hospital’s administrator, said by telephone. Their injuries ranged from cuts to traumas, she added, and 10 patients with life-threatening injuries were sent to larger facilities in Amarillo.

The storm system on Thursday night stretched as far as the Florida Panhandle, where one person was killed when at least one confirmed tornado struck Escambia County, knocking a tree onto a home, county officials said in a statement. And a man died in Madison County, Miss., when a tree fell on him on Friday morning, a fire official there said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said that 69 homes statewide had been damaged in the severe weather.

Of the roughly 30 mobile homes hit in Perryton, most were severely damaged, with one S.U.V. lodged against the side of a home trailer and the others covered with mud, wire from toppled telephone poles and strewn clothes.

Some of the mobile homes were split in half. Residents there combed through clothing and other personal belongings that had been ensnared in barbed wire that surrounded the trailer park. Near one doorway stood a statue of the Virgin Mary, unscathed.

“I still cannot believe this happened to us,” said Leonor Marquez, 57, whose home in Perryton was damaged by the tornado. She had sought refuge in her bathroom as the powerful gusts of wind neared, and her teenage son threw himself on top of Ms. Marquez to protect her.

“We could be dead,” she said.

At a neighborhood in southwest Perryton, residents and crews were cleaning up debris on a sweltering and humid afternoon, clearing the remnants of what had been modest homes.

Priscilla Berumen, 37, of Perryton, said she was cooking dinner for her two children on Thursday when she heard a loud howling sound outside, as if a train were arriving. She opened the front door and saw what appeared to be a funneling cloud and debris drifting all across the neighborhood.

“I knew right then and there that was a tornado and we had seconds,” Ms. Berumen said. “I said, ‘Let’s get to the restroom.’”

After it passed, they walked outside and saw the damage wrought seemingly in seconds.

After the tornado hit Perryton, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said that he was deploying emergency response teams to assist residents in the area.

Elsewhere in Texas and the American South, people were preparing on Saturday for widespread heat that officials said would last for days and raise the risk of wildfires and heat-related illnesses. Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings were in effect early Saturday for around 30 million people, mostly in Texas and Louisiana.

Meteorologists describe heat waves using a heat index, which accounts for both temperature and humidity to measure how hot it feels outside. A heat advisory usually indicates that the maximum index temperature is expected to be 100 degrees or higher for at least two days. An excessive heat warning tends to mean that the index is expected to be 105 degrees or more for at least two days.

Heat index readings up to 110 degrees were expected in parts of Texas on Saturday or Sunday, the Weather Service said in one advisory.

It’s not unusual for officials in Texas to issue heat advisories around this time of year, said Monte Oaks, a meteorologist at the Weather Service’s San Antonio office. They typically do so when high temperatures combine with other factors, including high humidity and westerly winds that blow hot air from high-altitude deserts, he added.

In this case, Mr. Oaks said, the humidity is high because Texas had a wetter and stormier spring than usual.

Climate change is making dangerously hot weather more common, and more extreme, on every continent. In Texas and neighboring Mexico, it is making excessive heat forecast over the next few days at least five times as likely, according to an analysis on Wednesday by Climate Central, a nonprofit research collaboration of scientists and journalists.

Johnny Diaz, Jesus Jiménez, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Remy Tumin contributed reporting.

Livia Albeck-Ripka is a reporter for The Times based in California. She was previously a reporter in the Australia bureau. @livia_ar

Mike Ives is a general assignment reporter. @mikeives

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