Residents of Perryton, Texas, were combing through piles of splintered plywood and mangled mobile homes on Friday for any items they could salvage — an Iron Man action figure, a putty knife stuck in wet dirt, clothing entangled in barbed wire — after a fatal accident the tornado destroyed much of its downtown.
The tornado was part of a fierce series of storms that battered the South Thursday, killing five people, including three in Perryton, authorities said.
Perryton Fire Chief Paul Dutcher said the victims included an 11-year-old boy and two women in their 60s. About 100 others were injured in Perryton, a Texas Panhandle community where the tornado directly struck a mobile home park, Chief Dutcher said. He added there were no shortage of residents and had previously told CNN that about 200 homes and the local fire station had been destroyed.
The storm system extended into the Florida Panhandle Thursday night, where one person was killed when at least one confirmed tornado struck Escambia County, toppling a tree on a home, county officials said in a statement. And a man was killed in Madison County, Miss., when a tree fell on him Friday morning, a fire official said. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said 69 homes across the state were damaged by the storm.
Of the approximately 30 mobile homes hit in Perryton, about 115 miles northeast of Amarillo, most were badly damaged, with one SUV leaning against the side of a trailer and the others covered in mud, wires from fallen telephone poles and scattered clothes.
Some of the mobile homes have been split in half. Residents searched for clothing and other personal belongings that had become trapped in the barbed wire surrounding the trailer park. Near one door was a statue of the Virgin Mary, unharmed.
« I still can’t believe it happened to us, » said Leonor Marquez, 57, whose home in Perryton was damaged by the tornado. She had sought refuge in her bathroom as the powerful gusts of wind approached and her teenage son Ms. Marquez threw himself on top of her to protect her.
« We may be dead, » he said.
The Perryton Fire Department said on Facebook On Thursday, although the fire station « suffered a direct hit, » its trucks and ambulances were still operational.
About 50 to 75 patients have been treated at Ochiltree General Hospital in Perryton, hospital administrator Kelly Judice said by phone. Their injuries ranged from cuts to concussions, she added, and 10 patients with life-threatening injuries have been sent to larger facilities in Amarillo.
In a neighborhood in southwest Perryton, residents and crews were clearing debris on a muggy, humid afternoon, clearing the remains of what had been modest homes.
Priscilla Berumen, 37, of Perryton, said she was preparing dinner for her two children on Thursday when she heard a loud howl outside, as if a train was arriving. She opened the front door and saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud and debris drifting throughout the neighborhood.
“I knew at the time that there was a tornado and we had seconds,” Ms. Berumen said. « I said, ‘Let’s go to the bathroom.' »
After that passed, they went outside and saw the damage seemingly caused within seconds.
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas She said was deploying emergency response teams to assist residents in Perryton.
Nearly 500,000 customers were left without power across the South on Friday, according to the site poweroutage.it, which aggregates data from utilities in the United States. About 186,000 customers they were out of power in Texaswith most of the outages concentrated in the northeastern corner of the state.
Millions more in Texas were preparing for widespread heat that officials said would last for days and increase the risk of wildfires and heat-related illnesses.
There is a lower risk of tornadoes in the southeast over the weekend, but the region will experience heavy rain, the weather service said. Strong winds and hail could hit Oklahoma on Saturday, and Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi could experience severe weather, including tornadoes, on Sunday.
Some daily temperature records could break in Texas and Louisiana, even in Houston and New Orleans, the weather service said. Heat advisories were in effect Friday for more than 30 million people, especially in Texas. More than 15 million more in Texas and Louisiana were on excessive heat alerts. Some of the warnings and watches were to remain in place until Saturday evening.
Meteorologists describe heat waves using a heat index, which takes into account both temperature and humidity measure how hot it is outside. A heat warning usually indicates that the maximum index temperature is expected to be 100 degrees or higher for at least two days. An excessive heat watch tends to mean the index could rise to 105 degrees or more.
The Weather Service expected heat index readings as high as 115 degrees in parts of Texas on Friday or Saturday said in a notice.
It’s not unusual for Texas officials to issue heat warnings this time of year, said Monte Oaks, a meteorologist at the Weather Service’s San Antonio office. They typically do so when high temperatures combine with other factors, including high humidity and westerly winds that blow warm air from high-elevation deserts, he added.
In this case, Mr. Oaks said, the humidity is high because Texas had a wetter and stormier spring than usual.
Climate change is making dangerously hot weather more common and more extreme on every continent. In Texas and neighboring Mexico, forecasts of excessive heat in the coming days are at least five times more likely, according to one analysis Wednesday by Climate Central, a non-profit research collaboration of scientists and journalists.
Johnny Diaz, Jesus Jimenez, Derrick Brison Taylor AND Remy Tumino contributed report.