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Severe weather hits parts of Ohio Valley after battering the South

CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP
                                An unidentified couple wade through flood waters along the sidewalk of Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
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CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP

An unidentified couple wade through flood waters along the sidewalk of Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

CHRIS GRANGER/THE TIMES-PICAYUNE/THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE VIA AP
                                Joe Morehouse saws trees off the side of his house and fence the day after a tornado hit parts of Slidell, La.
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CHRIS GRANGER/THE TIMES-PICAYUNE/THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE VIA AP

Joe Morehouse saws trees off the side of his house and fence the day after a tornado hit parts of Slidell, La.

CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP
                                Madelyn Haeger, 17, left, of Palm Harbor, walks with Victoria Arena, 12, center, and Joshua Arena, 9, both from Kirkland, Wash., as they negotiate a flooded intersection along the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
3/3
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CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP

Madelyn Haeger, 17, left, of Palm Harbor, walks with Victoria Arena, 12, center, and Joshua Arena, 9, both from Kirkland, Wash., as they negotiate a flooded intersection along the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP
                                An unidentified couple wade through flood waters along the sidewalk of Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
CHRIS GRANGER/THE TIMES-PICAYUNE/THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE VIA AP
                                Joe Morehouse saws trees off the side of his house and fence the day after a tornado hit parts of Slidell, La.
CHRIS URSO/TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA AP
                                Madelyn Haeger, 17, left, of Palm Harbor, walks with Victoria Arena, 12, center, and Joshua Arena, 9, both from Kirkland, Wash., as they negotiate a flooded intersection along the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

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Heavy storms sweep across Ohio Valley after battering the South

ATLANTA >> Powerful storms rumbled over parts of the U.S. Southeast on Thursday, prompting a few tornado warnings, causing flash flooding, and delaying the start of one of the world’s biggest sporting events, in Georgia.

The storm system, which has already been blamed for at least one death in Mississippi, demolished buildings and flooded streets in the New Orleans area Wednesday. It continued to spawn flash flood and tornado warnings in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina on Thursday.

More than 100,000 customers lacked power Thursday afternoon nationwide. That included more than 60,000 in Louisiana, which was hit hard by storms Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.us.

Now, forecasters say parts of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia will be near the bull’s-eye of a new area of concern Thursday. Those areas could see some tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail, according to the latest outlooks from the Storm Prediction Center.

The entire state of Ohio was under a flood watch Thursday afternoon. The ground there is already saturated with the potential for heavy rainfall on the way, said James Gibson, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Ohio.

Public school students in at least a dozen counties in West Virginia were sent home early Thursday due to the arriving storms. Southern West Virginia was hit by 10 tornadoes April 2. It was a record for one day in the state, which gets two tornadoes in an average year.

In Augusta, Georgia, the start of the Masters golf tournament was delayed, tournament officials announced. Forecasters predict wind gusts as high as 45 mph (72 kph).

“Those wind speeds could easily knock down branches here and there,” said Brad Carlberg, a National Weather Service forecaster. “Just be aware of the weather and gusts, especially if you are near trees, because a branch could fall down at any time.”

Torrential rains early Thursday made roads impassable in Valdosta, Georgia, an emergency manager reported. In Tallahassee, Florida, storms toppled trees and caused significant street flooding, the weather service said.

Emergency responders Thursday afternoon were assessing damage near St. Augustine, Florida, where the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down earlier that day. Photos shared by St. Johns County Fire Rescue showed fences ripped apart, but no deaths or serious injuries were reported. Fire Rescue Chief Sean McGee said one person went to a local hospital with storm-related injuries, but they were not transported by rescue workers.

Meteorologist Ben Nelson said National Weather Service teams were surveying the area to determine the cyclone’s intensity.

Storm damage has been reported from Texas to the Florida Panhandle.

A tornado struck Slidell, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of New Orleans, on Wednesday. It ripped roofs off buildings and partially collapsed others in and around the city of about 28,000. Authorities said first responders had to rescue people trapped in one apartment building.

Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer estimated at a news conference Wednesday night that about 75 homes and businesses were damaged. St. Tammany Parish President Mike Cooper estimated that hundreds more homes were damaged outside the city.

Police video showed tree limbs littering the streets and flooded yards that resembled swamps. Outside a McDonald’s restaurant, a car was on its side, power poles leaned, and large pieces of the trademark golden arches were strewn about.

“I’ve never talked to God so much before in my life,” Robin Marquez said after huddling with co-workers in a two-story building where the roof was ripped away and walls caved in.

There were no reports of deaths or critical injuries in Slidell. The weather service posted on social media Wednesday that initial surveys indicate the area was hit by an EF-1 tornado, with winds from 86 mph (138 kph) to 110 mph (177 kph).

Close to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell in parts of New Orleans. It came as the system of pipes and pumps that drains the city dealt with problems with its power generating system, forcing workers to divert power as needed.

“During intense rain, the mission sometimes shifts from keeping the streets dry to draining them as quickly as possible,” the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board said in a statement.

A woman died in central Mississippi when a power outage shut down her oxygen machine, officials said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said 72 homes were damaged.

In Texas, several people were rescued from homes and vehicles early Wednesday when flooding inundated parts of Jasper County, near the Louisiana line, authorities said.

In the Houston suburb of Katy, strong thunderstorms collapsed part of the roof of an auto repair shop. Storms also damaged businesses and cars in a strip mall, sending a large air conditioning unit on the roof crashing to the parking lot, officials said. Some of the damage was preliminarily determined to have been caused by a weak tornado, officials said.

“We were blessed that no lives were lost,” Harris County Fire Marshal Laurie Christensen said. Only minor injuries were reported.


Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans; Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Jamie Stengle in Dallas; Michael Goldberg in Jackson, Mississippi; Juan Lozano in Houston; Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi; and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.


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