NATIONAL NEWS

At least 1 dead in Florida as storms continue to pummel the South

May 10, 2024, 8:38 PM | Updated: 8:39 pm

FILE - Waves crash at Outlook Beach in Hampton, Va., Sept. 30, 2022. Storms with strong gusting win...

FILE - Waves crash at Outlook Beach in Hampton, Va., Sept. 30, 2022. Storms with strong gusting winds sometimes cause a phenomenon known as a meteotsunami, in which the winds push on the water and increase the wave height near the coast before it eventually crashes onto shore. (Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Powerful storms packing hurricane-force winds killed at least one woman Friday in Florida as a week of deadly severe weather continued in the South, where uprooted trees crashed onto homes and knocked out electricity to thousands in several states.

City officials in Tallahassee said wind gusts of 80 to 100 mph (128 to 161 kph), speeds that exceed hurricane intensity, were reported in Florida’s capital city. Images posted on social media showed mangled metal and other debris from damaged buildings littering some areas.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for 12 counties in the northern part of the state affected by the storm.

statement on the Tallahassee government’s website said crews were scrambling to repair 100 broken power poles while half the homes and businesses were left without electricity in a city of 200,000 people. It said the National Weather Service was assessing paths of three potential tornadoes.

“Our area experienced catastrophic wind damage,” Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said on the social platform X.

Crews have told customers in the dark that the restoration may take days. City officials expect the work to restore power will go through the weekend.

City spokesperson Alison Faris told The Tallahassee Democrat that the extent of the damage has made restoration hard-going because crews are focused on fixing the transmission infrastructure before they can start work on the distribution of power that energizes homes and businesses.

“Transmission first and then we restore circuits which impacts distribution,” Faris told the Democrat. “All hands are on the transmission. We should start seeing some circuits repaired here shortly.”

The first wave of more than 215 personnel from 20 utilities in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina has arrived to help crews as they work to repair the electric system.

The sheriff’s office for Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, said in a Facebook post Friday that a woman was killed when a tree fell onto her family’s home.

The storm that struck Tallahassee early Friday also knocked two chimneys from apartment buildings at a complex where fallen trees covered a row of cars. Fencing was left bent at the baseball stadium of Florida State University, where classes were canceled Friday.

DeSantis said on social media Friday that the state Division of Emergency Management was working with local officials to “do everything possible to return life to normalcy for our residents as quickly as possible.”

The woman killed in Florida was at least the fifth death caused by severe weather in the U.S. this week. A powerful tornado that ripped through a small Oklahoma town on Monday left one person dead, and storms on Wednesday were blamed for killing two people in Tennessee and one person in North Carolina.

An estimated 201,000 homes and businesses from Mississippi to North Carolina were blacked out Friday afternoon, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Most of those outages were in Florida, where lights and air conditioning were out for nearly 142,000 customers.

In Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson, authorities on Friday were asking residents to conserve and boil water as a precaution after a power outage at one of its major water treatment plants. JXN Water, the local water utility, said customers could expect reduced water pressure as workers assessed damage from overnight storms.

“It will take many hours for the system to recover and some places may take longer,” Ted Henifin, the water system’s manager, said in a statement.

Other parts of the South were cleaning up from storm damage inflicted earlier in the week. In the rural farming community of Vidalia, Georgia, and surrounding Toombs County, officials said a tornado left a path of destruction roughly 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long Thursday afternoon.

About 10 houses had trees crash onto or through their roofs and crews worked through the night to remove about 50 downed trees that were blocking roads, said Lynn Moore, emergency management director for Toombs County. A dozen car wrecks were reported as the storm passed, Moore said, but nobody in the county was reported injured.

“We’re fortunate that it wasn’t stronger than it was,” Moore said.

Also Thursday, the weather service reported a hurricane-force wind gust of 76 mph (122 kph) in Autauga County, Alabama. And one person was injured in Rankin County, Mississippi, after a tree fell crashing onto a home, according to weather service damage reports.

Since Monday, 39 states have been under threat of severe weather. On Wednesday and Thursday, about 220 million people were under some sort of severe weather risk, said Matthew Elliott, a Storm Prediction Center forecaster.

The weather comes on the heels of a stormy April in which the U.S. had 300 confirmed tornadoes, the second-most on record for the month and the most since 2011. Both the Plains and Midwest have been hammered by tornadoes this spring.

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

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At least 1 dead in Florida as storms continue to pummel the South