Powerful storm kills at least 2 in Florida panhandle

At least two people were killed and two others injured when a severe storm destroyed homes and toppled trees in the Florida Panhandle early Thursday morning, officials said.

Mark Wool, meteorologist responsible for coordinating warnings at the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, said the two people killed were living in a mobile home in Washington County that was destroyed early Thursday morning.

“It was the middle of the night and obviously they either didn’t get the warning or they had no way to protect themselves from it,” Mr Wool said. “People in mobile homes really have no protection against tornadoes.”

Mr Wool said radar showed a tornado in the area around 4.10am, but the weather service could not provide official confirmation of a tornado until investigators were on the scene Friday. “We are confident it was a tornado and the damage footage I have seen so far is consistent with that,” Mr Wool said.

The storm also “severely damaged” a brick home in Washington County and overturned a fuel truck on Interstate 10 in Jackson County, Wool said.

Kristy Kolmetz, public information officer for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in northwest Florida, said a tornado caused significant damage about seven miles from Chipley, Florida.

“In this area, there was total destruction of houses, and there were several downed power lines and debris on the roads,” Ms. Kolmetz said.

The Washington County school district closed Thursday due to the threat of severe weather.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Twitter that his office had received reports of severe weather in Washington and Jackson counties and that the Florida Division of Emergency Management was there to assist local officials.

The high winds and heavy rain in Florida were part of a line of thunderstorms that moved across the south overnight and into Thursday.

Storms moved east from Mississippi, Alabama and northwest Arkansas, where at least seven people were injured, two seriously, when a tornado touched down on Wednesday.

Mayor Doug Sprouse of Springdale, Ark., the town where the seven people were injured, declared an emergency there Wednesday. “Many residents were displaced from their homes and many businesses reported significant damage,” Mr. Sprouse said in a statement.

The Weather Service said the line of storms continued to move east Thursday and could bring severe thunderstorms and isolated tornadoes from Florida to New England.

Bob Oravec, a weather service chief forecaster, said on Thursday “there is a risk of severe Florida Panhandle weather across just about the entire East Coast.”

Parts of the Carolinas, Maryland and Virginia were under tornado watch Thursday evening. The National Weather Service said scattered severe thunderstorms would move into the northeast until 10 p.m., with winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour, large hail and the potential for more tornadoes.

The weather service advised people in affected areas to secure loose items and warned there could be power outages and downed trees.

More than 22,000 customers were without power in Virginia as of Thursday afternoon, along with 13,000 customers in Mississippi, 10,000 in Alabama, 15,000 in Tennessee and 12,000 in Florida, according to PowerOutage.US, a website which aggregates data from public services.

Claire Fay contributed report.

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