At Least 20 Dead in Memorial Day Weekend Storms That Devastated Several US States

May 27, 2024by Bruce Schreiner and Julio Cortez, Associated Press
At Least 20 Dead in Memorial Day Weekend Storms That Devastated Several US States
Damage is seen at a truck stop the morning after a tornado rolled through, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Valley View, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A series of powerful storms in the central and southern U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday weekend killed at least 20 people and left a wide trail of destroyed homes, businesses and power outages.

The destructive storms caused deaths in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky and were just north of an oppressive, early season heat wave setting records from south Texas to Florida.

Forecasters said the severe weather could shift to the East Coast later Monday and warned millions of people outdoors for the holiday to watch the skies.

The latest governor to announce the deaths of their residents was Kentucky’s Andy Beshear. He declared a state of emergency Monday and said on social media platform X that three people died and that parts of the state had been ravaged by “multiple reports of wind damage and tornadoes.”

The death toll of 20 also included seven deaths in Cooke County, Texas, from a Saturday tornado that tore through a mobile home park, officials said, and eight deaths across Arkansas.

Two people died in Mayes County, Oklahoma, which is east of Tulsa, authorities said. The injured included guests at an outdoor wedding.

The latest community left with shattered homes and no power was the tiny Kentucky community of Charleston, which took a direct hit Sunday night. It’s next to Dawson Spring, which was devastated by a tornado in late 2021. Beshear’s father, former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, grew up in Dawson Springs.

“It’s a big mess,” said Rob Linton, who lives in Charleston and is the fire chief of Dawson Springs. “Trees down everywhere. Houses moved. Power lines are down. No utilities whatsoever – no water, no power.”

Further east, some rural areas of Hopkins County hit by the 2021 tornado around the community of Barnsley were damaged again Sunday night, said county Emergency Management Director Nick Bailey.

“There were a lot of people that were just getting their lives put back together and then this,” Bailey said. “Almost the same spot, the same houses and everything.”

More than 600,000 customers across the eastern U.S. were without power Monday morning, including more than 170,000 in Kentucky. Twelve states reported at least 10,000 outages, according to PowerOutage.us.

The area on highest alert for severe weather Monday is a broad swath of the eastern U.S., from Alabama to New York.

It’s been a grim month of tornadoes and severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa last week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. Storms killed eight people in Houston earlier this month. The severe thumderstorms and deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said a persistent pattern of warm, moist air is to blame for the string of tornadoes over the past two months.

That warm moist air is at the northern edge of a heat dome bringing temperatures typically seen at the height of summer to late May.

The heat index — a combination of air temperature and humidity to indicate how the heat feels to the human body — is expected to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) in parts of south Texas on Monday.

Miami set a record high of 96 F (35.5 C) on Sunday.

Schreiner reported from Louisville, Kentucky. Associated Press reporter Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

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