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Cleanup begins after tornadoes hit in Texas and Florida, killing 4 and destroying homes


PERRYTON, Texas — Cleanup efforts were beginning 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 Thursday afternoon and rescue efforts continued.

Another person died 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.

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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, Dutcher said.

“It is such a tragedy,” Dutcher 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 home if possible as cleanup efforts began in the town of more than 8,000 about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northeast of Amarillo, just south of the Oklahoma line.

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Bouchard said in a social media post that the Thursday tornado destroyed homes, mobile homes, businesses and damaged the local police station. Bouchard did not immediately return a phone call for comment 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,” Bouchard said.

The National Weather Service in Amarillo said the a tornado hit the area shortly after 5 p.m. 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.”

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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,” 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.

Observations Program Leader Forrest Mitchell at the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, said survey crews were expected to head out Friday to southwest and west central Oklahoma and western North Texas to investigate possible tornados.

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“Today (Friday), it looks like we may have a bit of a breather, which is fortunate so we can go take care of our surveying needs, and then we have another system coming in (Saturday) that may give us opportunity for severe weather” Mitchell said.

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

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he had directed the state Division of Emergency Management to help with everything from traffic control to restoring water and other utilities, if needed.

Meanwhile, flash flooding was reported in Pensacola, Florida, where between 12 and 16 inches of rain has fallen since Thursday evening, said Caitlin Baldwin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Mobile/Pensacola office. She said the weather service had received reports of evacuations and water rescues in Pensacola following the deluge, which was the heaviest amount of rainfall the city had received since 2014.

The storm system also brought hail and possible tornados to northwestern Ohio.

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A barn was smashed and trees toppled in Sandusky County, Ohio, and power lines were downed in northern Toledo, leaving thousands without power. The weather service reported “a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado” over Bellevue and storms showing “signs of rotation” in other areas.

It was the second day in a row that powerful storms struck the U.S. 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 Friday and were forecast into the Juneteenth holiday weekend with temperatures reaching toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). It was expected to feel as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).

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Associated Press journalists Rick Callahan in Indianapolis, David Erickson in Perryton, Texas, Robert Jablon in Los Angeles, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Lisa Baumann in Seattle and Adam Kealoha Causey in Dallas contributed.

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Published: 2023-06-16 13:47:48

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