BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Extreme wind gusts, blowing snow and widespread flooding made traveling treacherous on Friday as a storm system moved into the northeastern United States, leaving rising water and at least five deaths in its wake across the South.
More than 400,000 homes and businesses were without power Friday after the National Weather Service warned of gusts up to 60 mph (97 kph) from Virginia into New England. Falling trees damaged homes and power lines in many places. North Carolina and Virginia, where hundreds of people had to be pulled from flooded homes, had the most customers without electricity, according to poweroutages.us.
With water levels were rising fast after up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in just three days, the Tennessee Valley Authority said it began making controlled releases from some of its 49 dams in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. That could lead to more flooding downstream, so people who live near the water should be wary, said James Everett, senior manager of the utility's river forecast center in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Creek water was still raging Friday in Alabama's Buck's Pocket State Park, where a person was seen inside a car as it disappeared under the surface two days earlier. Rangers walked for miles above the swollen creek but found no trace of the vehicle, so authorities sent up a state helicopter crew on Friday.
"The weather is better, but the water is not. The water is several feet higher than normal. It's extremely high and fast." Alabama Trooper Chuck Daniel told The Associated Press. "Until that water slows down, nobody's going to get in that water.”
It took nearly three weeks last year to recover the body of an 18-year-old who was in a Jeep that got swept into the water in the same area.
The National Weather Service was using radar data and making damage assessments to confirm many reports of tornadoes touching down, including spots in Virginia and Maryland, near the nation's capital, meteorologist Isha Renta told the AP. In the Tampa, Florida, area, tornadoes blew a tree onto a mobile home, trapping an elderly woman, and toppled a construction crane along interstate 275.
The dangerous winds formed the leading edge of a band of weather that stretched from Tennessee to Maine on Friday, blowing snow into northern states. As much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) fell overnight in Ohio, contributing to car accidents in the Akron area, and the Ohio Department of Transportation urged people to make room for nearly 1,300 state crews working to improve the icy conditions.
Up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow was predicted in West Virginia, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia, where he said more than 500 people had to be rescued from their homes as the waters rose.
Citing floods, rain, snow, power outages or all of the above, many school districts canceled classes in state after state.
Earlier, the weather destroyed mobile homes in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, caused mudslides in Tennessee and Kentucky and flooded communities that shoulder waterways across the Appalachian region.
Authorities confirmed five storm-related fatalities, in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Anita Rembert was killed and her husband was injured, but their child and two grandchildren were unhurt as high winds destroyed two mobile homes near the town of Demopolis, Alabama, according to the county's emergency management director, Kevin McKinney. They emerged to a scene littered with plywood, insulation, broken trees and twisted metal.
At least four other people died in vehicles that were hit by falling trees or lost control in heavy rain or floods. Authorities pleaded with motorists to avoid driving where they can't see the pavement.
A driver died in South Carolina when a tree fell on an SUV near Fort Mill, Highway Patrol Master Trooper Gary Miller said. The driver's name wasn't immediately released.
In North Carolina's Gaston County, Terry Roger Fisher was killed after his pickup truck hydroplaned in heavy rain, plunged down a 25-foot (8-meter) embankment and overturned in a creek, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said, according to news outlets.
An unidentified man died and two others were injured Thursday when a car hydroplaned in Knoxville, Tennessee, and hit a truck, police said in a news release.
And in Tennessee, 36-year-old teacher Brooke Sampson was killed and four people were injured when a rain-soaked tree fell on a van carrying Sevierville city employees, officials said. The crash, though still under investigation, appeared to have been weather-related according to preliminary information, said Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Bill Miller.
There's little room to relax after this storm blows through, because there's more wild weather to come.
“We do expect another storm system to come along about midweek next week and bring heavy precipitation to some of the same areas that just saw it over the past 24 hours. So something to keep an eye on for next week,” meteorologist Greg Carbin of the Weather Prediction Center told the AP.
Schools around New York were closed as the storm moved through the state. Operators of the Thruway reduced the highway’s speed limit from 65 mph (105 kph) to 45 mph (72 kph) across more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) amid snowy, icy conditions.
In northern New York, an ice storm left more than 35,000 customers without power as falling tree limbs brought down power lines.
Associated Press staffers Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Va.; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla.; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; contributed to this report.