Image: A man shares a lighter during a rain storm on Wall St. in New York’s financial district February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) – Violent thunderstorms and tornadoes lashed the U.S. Southeast and mid-Atlantic region on Wednesday, killing at least three people in Virginia a day after twisters claimed three lives along the Gulf Coast, authorities said.
The National Weather Service (NWS) warned of tornado activity along a line of storms stretching from Raleigh, North Carolina, north to parts of Virginia, Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area.
“We’re swamped with tornadoes on the ground here,” said Weather Service forecaster Brandon Dunston in Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capital.
Three people were confirmed dead in Waverly, Virginia, a town of some 2,300 residents about 45 miles southeast of Richmond, where at least three structures sustained heavy damage in a mid-afternoon storm, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
State police later said the three victims – two men, aged 50 and 26, and a 2-year-old boy, were killed when their mobile home was demolished in the storm. Their bodies were all found about 300 yards (meters) from the trailer site, police said.
At least one eyewitness told a Richmond-based television station WTVR he saw what appeared to be a twister heading into Waverly, but state police said a tornado had yet to be confirmed.
Two highways leading into the town, U.S. Route 460 and State Route 40, were left impassable by heavy debris from the storm, state police said. Authorities also were responding to widespread reports of local flooding.
Tornado watches were posed through much of Virginia, and Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency to hasten delivery of disaster relief to stricken areas.
A storm earlier on Wednesday destroyed a mobile home in Wayne County in central North Carolina and wind gusts of up to 53 miles per hour were reported at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina, the NWS said.
Just north of Oxford, North Carolina, near the Virginia border, high winds damaged several houses, one of them blown “completely apart,” Granville County Sheriff Brindell Wilkins said, adding that power outages were widespread. He said a number of people suffered minor injuries.
Schools in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida canceled classes or shifted hours ahead of severe weather forecasts.
The severe weather in Virginia and the Carolinas came as rescue teams combed through debris left by several tornadoes that pummeled southern Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, claiming at least three lives.
Among the hardest hit was the Mississippi River hamlet of Convent, Louisiana, where state officials said two people died and dozens were injured at one trailer park. Most of the estimated 160 mobile homes were destroyed or heavily damaged at the park, located about 60 miles west of New Orleans.
In neighboring Assumption Parish, more than 100 homes and businesses were damaged and several were destroyed, said sheriff’s office spokesman Robert Martin.
The NWS confirmed one storm-related death near the Mississippi town of Purvis, where a mobile home was destroyed.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for two counties lashed by a tornado on Tuesday night. Several people were injured and about 70 homes damaged when a tornado ripped through Pensacola, Florida, local media reported.
(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C. and Letitia Stein in Atlanta; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)
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