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Death toll from U.S. storm rises to 3; more severe weather expected

A volatile storm ripping across the U.S. spawned tornadoes blamed for killing at least three people in Louisiana, and the line of punishing weather threatened neighbouring southern states into the nighttime hours Wednesday.

To the north, the huge storm system delivered blizzard-like conditions to the Great Plains and was expected to push more snow and ice into Appalachia and New England. The wintry blast dumped more than 60 centimetres of snow in parts of South Dakota.

Authorities in St. Charles Parish west of New Orleans said eight people were taken to hospitals with injuries Wednesday afternoon and one woman was found dead outdoors after a suspected tornado struck the community of Killona along the Mississippi River, damaging homes and flinging debris.

“She was outside the residence, so we don’t know exactly what happened,” St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said of the woman killed. He added. “There was debris everywhere. She could have been struck. We don’t know for sure. But this was a horrific and a very violent tornado.”

Boy and mother also killed

About 450 kilometres away in northern Louisiana, it took hours for authorities to find the bodies of a mother and child reported missing after a tornado struck the rural Keithville community near Shreveport on Tuesday afternoon.

“You go to search a house and the house isn’t even there, so where do you search?” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters, noting the challenge faced by emergency responders as he toured the path of destruction.

A person moves debris on top of a damaged house against a dark sky.
An emergency worker moves debris on top of a damaged house in Caddo Parish, La., early Wednesday. (KSLA/The Associated Press)

The Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office said the body of eight-year-old Nikolus Little was found around 11 p.m. Tuesday in a wooded area. His mother, Yoshiko A. Smith, 30, was found dead under storm debris around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Smith’s body was discovered one street over from where their home had been. Her son was found dead as far as a half-mile away, said Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Sgt. Casey Jones. He said the boy’s father had left to buy groceries before the storm hit.

“He just went to go shopping for his family, came home and the house was gone,” said Jones. When deputies arrived, they found nothing but a concrete slab.

More tornadoes expected

Wednesday’s forecast called for more severe storms with additional tornadoes expected across an area of the Gulf Coast region populated by nearly three million people from New Orleans to Mobile, Ala. More damaging weather was possible in the Florida panhandle.

A steady stream of tornado warnings were issued Wednesday across portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

WATCH | Huge storm system hits U.S.:

Huge storm system brings heavy snow, tornadoes to parts of U.S.

A huge Colorado low is tracking across the U.S. bringing dangerous weather from the Rockies to the Midwest. Tornadoes have torn apart buildings in the south, while blizzard conditions are hitting in the north. And Canada won’t be spared its wrath either.

In Union Parish, on Louisiana’s northern border with Arkansas, Farmerville Mayor John Crow said a Tuesday night tornado badly damaged an apartment complex where 50 families lived and wiped out a neighbouring trailer park with about 10 homes.

“It happened quick,” Crow said Wednesday, adding that about 30 homes were damaged along nearby Lake D’Arbonne.

Shannon Futch, Union Parish’s emergency director, said there were reports of numerous people treated for cuts and bruises and at least two people hospitalized after a twister cut a swath of damage about eight kilometres long, toppling trees onto about a dozen houses.

“Some people even stayed the night in their houses that had big pine trees on them,” Futch said. “They didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Chicken houses destroyed

A suspected tornado reported in New Iberia in southwest Louisiana damaged several buildings on the campus of New Iberia Medical Center, hospital officials said, and left five people with minor injuries.

In neighbouring Mississippi, a suspected tornado destroyed four large chicken houses — one of which held 5,000 roosters — in Rankin County, Miss., Sheriff Bryan Bailey said. Mobile homes at a park in Sharkey County, Miss., were reduced to piles of shredded debris. Resident Leslie Jackson told WLBT-TV her home was one of only a couple left standing.

A line of thunderstorms sweeping through Texas spawned tornadoes Tuesday and damaged dozens of homes and businesses. At least five people were injured In the Dallas suburb of Grapevine, police spokesperson Amanda McNew said. A possible tornado blew the roof off the city’s municipal service centre, leaving debris hanging from power lines.

A tree uprooted by a possible tornado lays beside a damaged gazebo.
A large tree is left uprooted alongside a damaged gazebo after a possible tornado in Grapevine, Texas, on Tuesday. (Elí­as Valverde II/The Dallas Morning News/The Associated Press)

Icy weather from the huge storm was expected to affect the U.S. from coast to coast. It began by dumping heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada and was predicted to bring ice and snow to the eastern U.S. in the coming days.

“This system is notable for the fact that it’s going impact areas all the way from California to eventually the Northeast,” said Frank Pereira, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Md.

60 cm of snow in South Dakota

Forecasters expect the storm system to hobble the upper Midwest with ice, rain and snow for days, as well as move into the northeast and central Appalachians. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch from Wednesday night through Friday afternoon, depending on the timing of the storm. Residents from West Virginia to Vermont were told to watch out for a possible significant mix of snow, ice and sleet.

In the Black Hills of western South Dakota, snow piled up to nearly 61 centimetres in some mountainous communities.

“They shovel for hours on end,” said Vicki Weekly, who manages a historic hotel in the tourist and gambling city of Deadwood, where a few visitors were still venturing out to hit the casinos.

Icicles of various sizes hang from the roof of a house.
Icicles hang from a roof as rain from a winter storm creates icy conditions in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Tuesday. (Erin Woodiel/The Argus Leader/The Associated Press)

A roughly 520-kilometre span of Interstate 90 in South Dakota was closed Wednesday, and state officials warned drivers to stay off most highways. The state also planned to close Interstate 29 in the northeast corner of the state on Wednesday night.

Wet, heavy snow left tree limbs sagging and made driving treacherous Wednesday in northern Minnesota. National Weather Service meteorologist Ketzel Levens in Duluth said snow had reached 15 to 20 centimetres in some parts of the region.

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