More than 129,000 homes and businesses were in the dark across Texas, Arkansas and Missouri on Wednesday and a tornado watch was in effect across much of Florida as a line of severe weather brought havoc to much of the South.
In Texas, at least one tornado late Tuesday tore off roofs east of Houston, downing utility poles and power lines and flipping cars, trucks and even a train. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
The weather threat was targeting the Atlantic Coast on Wednesday: The I-95 corridor from northern Florida to southern Virginia was most at risk. The most significant threat will be wind gusts that can reach hurricane force of 75 mph, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
A tornado watch was issued for parts of Florida on Wednesday morning after the National Weather Service in Tallahassee reported a confirmed tornado near Belair and Four Points, Florida, moving northeast.
“A line of strong, severe thunderstorms will progress eastward … into and across this watch area,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Roger Edwards warned.
The weather service warned Wednesday that a line of thunderstorms will move eastward along North Carolina and South Carolina.
“Isolated damaging wind gusts and a couple of tornadoes are possible with these storms,” the weather service said.
The storms are moving ahead of a cold front surging southward through north-central North Carolina. The weather service warned that while the primary hazards are isolated damaging winds, a couple of tornadoes are possible if the storms continue to strengthen.
Tuesday’s tornado that hit southeast Houston caused at least EF2 damage, the National Weather Service station in Houston reported Wednesday. EF2 damage from a tornado is characterized as roofs torn from frame houses, mobile homes that are leveled and large trees snapped or uprooted, according to the National Weather Service.
More than 16,000 people remained without power across the state as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us.
The weather service at one point Tuesday warned that a “large, extremely dangerous and potentially deadly tornado” was on the ground headed toward Baytown, about 25 miles east of Houston. Street flooding was a chronic problem across the region.
The National Weather Service said it was sending a team out to survey damage and confirm tornado strengths across parts of Southeast Texas. The American Red Cross said it was opening a shelter for residents of Pasadena, a city of 150,000 about 15 miles east of Houston.
In Pasadena, the animal shelter lost power, water and phones, so the shelter and adoption center were shut down.
“Please help! The Pasadena Animal Shelter was hit by a tornado today! We are in desperate need of fosters, etc.,” the agency tweeted. “Please please please share and if you can hold a dog or 5 (garage, spare room, whatever) PLEASE help us!”
The shelter later posted an update on social media saying other shelters and rescue organizations had taken most of the animals. “We assure you that the animals we have left are being cared for while we work to get them out to fosters and other organizations.”
In the Houston suburb of Deer Park, a tornado and damaging winds were blamed for blowing over a train. Dozens of buildings in the city suffered significant damage, and dozens of roads were closed because of fallen trees or power lines.
The school district posted a note on Facebook saying many homes and businesses were damaged, and that all its buildings and some neighborhoods had no power. After “careful consideration,” classes were canceled for Wednesday.
“We hope this will give families a chance to recover from the stress of today’s events, and we believe it is best for children to be with their parents or guardians after a natural disaster,” the post said. It added that the cancellation will allow staff to determine the extent of damage of its own buildings.
City officials urges residents to stay off the roads as workers attempt to repair downed power lines. Deer Park Mayor Jerry Mouton Jr. said he was amazed that no injuries were reported.
“We will deal with the property and recover and rebuild,” he said.
The storm system was also bringing snow and ice to much of the central U.S. More than a dozen school systems closed as snow blew through Michigan. Chimes, Arkansas, received 12 inches of snow on Tuesday and 10 inches was reported in the Texas Panhandle in the town of Matador. Parts of Arkansas were paralyzed by heavy, wet snow Tuesday. Schools and businesses were closed across Oklahoma, where snow totals of up to 6 inches were reported.
Contributing: The Associated Press