Southeast storms: Trees, power lines down in Florida

Florida is bracing for weather as a huge storm system battered the South over the weekend, killing 19 people and destroying trailer homes and downed trees from Mississippi to Georgia.

Susan Broadbridge/Hattiesburg American/AP
The Hattiesburg Fire Station places the US flag half-staff after Saturday's tornado in Hattiesburg, Miss., Sunday.

Florida is one of several Southern states reeling from a storm system that brought heavy rains, high winds, and tornadoes to the Deep South over the weekend.

Thunderstorms, strong winds, and high surf remain in the forecast through Wednesday for Florida and Georgia, according to the National Weather Service’s Severe Weather Prediction Center. But electricity has been restored to more than 23,000 customers around Tallahassee, with no reports of tornadoes touching down in the Florida county.

This weekend was already devastating for Southern states, with at least 19 dead after several thunderstorms and tornadoes striking the region, according to CNN.

“There’s a lot of hurting people right now,” Pastor Bill Marlette of the First Baptist Church Adel in Cook County near the Florida-Georgia state line told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “There’s just a sense of shock.”

The church was sheltering more than 50 people, he said.

Georgia's rural Cook County was the site of a deadly tornado that tore through mobile home park on Sunday, killing seven people. The park had about 40 mobile homes, and roughly half were destroyed, as the tornado sheered the siding and upended homes, according to Coroner Tim Purvis.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for seven counties in the south-central part of the state, warning that dangerous conditions persisted.

"I urge all Georgians to exercise caution and vigilance in order to remain safe and prevent further loss of life or injuries," Governor Deal said in a news release.

Southern Georgia, north and central Florida, and Alabama were placed under a “high risk” warning for the first time since 2014. Forecasters issue the weather outlook when they are very confident of a tornado outbreak. Sunday also marked just the third time since 2000 any part of Florida had been at a high-risk for severe weather, according to Patrick Marsh, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

“This is a pretty rare event in this location,” Dr. Marsh told the Associated press on Sunday. “Any time the SPC issues a high-risk, for me, it’s sobering. We’re coming to work and there’s a strong likelihood that people’s lives will forever be changed.”  

Florida has seen less damage than Georgia. Forecasters said the storms hadn’t caused as much damage in Florida as hurricane Hermine in September, the first hurricane to land on the state in more than a decade. This weekend’s weather caused minor flooding across Florida’s panhandle and downed trees and power lines across the state. A funnel cloud, a precursor to a tornado, was spotted over Daytona International Speedway, but there were no reports of tornadoes, according to Volusia County Emergency Management Director Jim Judge.

In addition to the damage in nearby Georgia, Mississippi, southern Louisiana, and Alabama were also hit hard by the storm. A pre-dawn tornado on Saturday killed at least four people in Hattiesburg, Miss. The tornado, which registered winds above 130 miles-per-hour and tore a 25-mile path across southern Mississippi, was especially dangerous, since it struck in the middle of the night.

Storms are also expected to move up the Atlantic, as emergency management officials warned New York City residents to brace for winds up to 70 m.p.h. and several inches of rain through Monday night. Flood advisories and watches were issued for four of the city’s five boroughs. 

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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