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16 June 2023

At least four dead as Texas and Florida are hit by tornados

16 June 2023

Clean-up efforts were beginning on Friday morning after severe storms spawned tornadoes that left at least four dead, three in the Texas Panhandle and one in the Florida Panhandle as another series of fierce storms carved its way through Southern states.

In Perryton, Texas, Ochiltree County sheriff Terry Bouchard said three people were killed when the tornado struck on Thursday afternoon and rescue efforts continued.

Another person died on Thursday night in the Florida Panhandle when at least one confirmed tornado cut through Escambia County, toppling a tree onto a home, county spokesperson Andie Gibson told the Pensacola News Journal.

Of the homes searched so far in Perryton, all but one of the occupants had been accounted for, so the main priority was going back over the area and the debris field to find that person, Perryton fire chief Paul Dutcher said on NBC’s Today show.

Mr Dutcher estimated that 150 to 200 homes in the community had been destroyed and said that in the downtown area, many storefronts were totally wiped off and buildings had collapsed or partially collapsed.

“You keep hearing people say, ‘We’ll rebuild’ and ‘We’ll be back,'” he said. “And we will. That’s the hope we have.”

But the biggest concern for now is trying to help the families of those who were killed carry on, Mr Dutcher said.

“It is such a tragedy,” he said. “All the stuff behind me, it can all be rebuilt, but those lives that we’ve lost is really the tragedy of everything,” the fire chief said while standing in front of a collapsed building and a pile of bricks and other debris covered the ground, partially burying a truck.

Sheriff Bouchard urged residents to remain at home if possible as clean-up efforts began in the town of more than 8,000 about 115 miles north east of Amarillo, just south of the Oklahoma line.

Mr Bouchard said in a social media post that the Thursday tornado destroyed homes, mobile homes, businesses and damaged the local police station.

He did not immediately return a phone call for comment on Friday, but said much of the county is without power.

“We (the sheriff’s office) are probably one of the only places with power in the county, thanks to our generator,” Mr Bouchard said.

The National Weather Service in Amarillo said the a tornado hit the area shortly after 5 pm on Thursday.

Storm chaser Brian Emfinger told Fox Weather he watched the twister move through a mobile home park, mangling trailers and uprooting trees.

“I had seen the tornado do some pretty serious destruction to the industrial part of town,” he said. “Unfortunately, just west of there, there is just mobile home, after mobile home, after mobile home that is completely destroyed.”

Ochiltree General Hospital interim CEO Kelly Judice said 50 to 100 people sought medical care, including about 10 in critical condition.

Patients had minor to major trauma, ranging from “head injuries to collapsed lungs, lacerations, broken bones,” Ms Judice said.

There was no immediate word on the tornado’s size or wind speeds, weather service meteorologist Luigi Meccariello said.

The storm system then moved into Oklahoma, spawning several more suspected twisters in addition to high winds and large hail.

About 475,000 customers were without electricity in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma as of Friday morning, according to the poweroutage.us website.

It was the second day in a row that powerful storms struck the US.

On Wednesday, strong winds toppled trees, damaged buildings and blew cars off a highway from the eastern part of Texas to Georgia.

Also in Texas and other southern states including Louisiana, heat advisories were in effect on Friday and were forecast into the Juneteenth holiday weekend with temperatures reaching toward 38 degrees Celsius. It was expected to feel as hot as 43 degrees Celsius.

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