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At Least 21 Dead as Storms Leave Path of Destruction Across Central US

Powerful storms swept through the eastern half of the US on Monday, after killing at least 21 people, injuring hundreds, obliterating homes, and leaving a path of destruction across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas over the Memorial Day weekend.

As the weather system moved into Georgia, the Storm Prediction Center issued a severe thunderstorm watch for more than 7 million people in the state and South Carolina. Heavy rain is expected to drench parts of the East Coast, with potential damage from strong winds. Intense heat is also forecasted for parts of the South.

Overall, over 120 million people are under extreme weather alerts, particularly on the East Coast, where officials are urging people to take precautions.

Weekend Devastation

Weather-related deaths were reported in four states: eight in Arkansas, seven in Texas, two in Oklahoma, and two in Kentucky.

On Monday, more than 187,000 customers were without power in Kentucky, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Power outages also affected 84,000 customers in Alabama, 74,000 in West Virginia, 70,000 in Missouri, and 63,000 in Arkansas.

The Indianapolis 500 was delayed by four hours due to a strong storm, leading Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials to evacuate about 125,000 race fans. In Oklahoma, inaccessible roads and downed power lines led officials in Claremore, near Tulsa, to declare the city “shut down.”

Texas Tornadoes

A corridor of devastation from north of Dallas to the northwest corner of Arkansas saw the highest concentration of death and destruction. In Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, seven deaths were reported after a tornado Saturday night tore through a rural area near a mobile home park. Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated at a Sunday news conference that the dead included two children, ages two and five, and three family members found dead in one home.

About 100 people were injured and more than 200 homes and structures destroyed in Cooke County. Winds in the area reached an estimated 135 mph, officials said.

“The hopes and dreams of Texas families and small businesses have literally been crushed by storm after storm,” Abbott said, noting that Texas has experienced successive bouts of severe weather, including storms that killed eight people in Houston earlier this month.

Personal Accounts

Hugo Parra, from Farmers Branch, north of Dallas, said he took shelter with 40 to 50 people in the bathroom of a truck stop. The storm sheared the roof and walls off the building, mangling metal beams and leaving battered cars in the parking lot.

“A firefighter came to check on us and he said, ‘You’re very lucky,’” Parra said. “The best way to describe this is the wind tried to rip us out of the bathrooms.”

In nearby Carrollton, Kevin Dorantes, 20, called his father and brother to take cover in a windowless bathroom as a tornado approached. They survived, but he later found two people severely injured in a smashed house in the neighborhood.

“They were conscious but severely injured,” Dorantes said.

Impact on Other States

In Oklahoma, storms killed two people and destroyed houses. The injured included guests at an outdoor wedding. Eight people died in Arkansas, and two died in Kentucky.

An Arkansas state emergency official noted that two deaths were indirectly attributed to the storm: one from a heart attack and another due to lack of oxygen when the power went out.

In Kentucky, a man was killed Sunday in Louisville when a tree fell on him, and in Oklahoma, two people died in Mayes County, east of Tulsa.

Weather Outlook

The deadly spate of weather-related destruction comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its highest hurricane season forecast, predicting eight to 13 hurricanes and 17 to 25 named storms.

In April, the second-highest number of tornadoes on record were reported across the country. Last week, at least five people were killed by tornadoes in Iowa.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, attributed the string of tornadoes over the past two months to a persistent pattern of warm, moist air.

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