Powerful storm kills 2 in Virginia, raising death toll to 5

Damage from a tornado that was spotted in Sussex County. February 24, 2016. (Source: Michael Campbell)

CONVENT, La. (AP) — A powerful storm system swept across the East Coast on Wednesday, killing two people in Virginia and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the Carolinas.

A day earlier, the system spawned at least 10 tornadoes along the Gulf Coast, damaging hundreds of homes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. Three people were killed and dozens were injured.

Forecasters warned the threat wasn’t over and that more than 88 million people were at risk Wednesday of seeing some sort of severe weather. In the Midwest, heavy snow and biting winds led to mass flight cancellations at Chicago airports and school closings in several states.

Previous story: At least 3 dead as storms, tornadoes rip through Gulf states

The two people killed in eastern Virginia were in the town of Waverly, said Ron Messina, a spokesman for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He didn’t immediately have the victims’ identities or details about how they died.

The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area, and radars indicated a twister in Waverly.

On Tuesday, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Gulf Coast was a recreational vehicle park in the town of Convent, in southern Louisiana. RVs were tossed about and lay on top of wrecked cars and pickup trucks.

Two people were killed there, and 31 injured people were taken to area hospitals, said St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin.

An all-night search of the RV park found no additional injuries or fatalities, the sheriff said. Three people were still missing and Martin said he hoped to locate them Wednesday.

Briaxton Lott, 23, was in the trailer park when the tornado hit. The pad where his trailer once sat was empty and he pointed to the remnants of it about 100 feet away.

“The whole front end came up and slammed back down, and I grabbed up the baby and the next thing I know we just went rolling end over end,” Lott said.

His destroyed trailer ended up right next to three trailers that appeared untouched. Children’s toys were scattered in the mud, and an alarm could be heard going off in the morning, likely alerting a long-gone resident it was time to go to work. Remains of the jumbled and mashed trailers and vehicles were scattered across the park.

Lott, who was in the trailer with his wife, two kids and their dog, didn’t even know where the top of his trailer was. He came back in the morning to dig out some possessions, including family Bibles and items inherited from an uncle who passed away.

When asked his plans for the future Lott said: “Just keep moving forward. We’ll definitely be going to church Sunday, definitely.”

The storms dumped several inches of rain in Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere, causing flash flood watches. Schools were closed in parts of Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas ahead of the storms.

In Mississippi, 73-year-old Dale Purvis died of blunt-force trauma in a mobile home west of Purvis, Lamar County Coroner Cody Creel said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said an apparent tornado in the Pensacola area significantly damaged more than 70 homes and 24 apartments, leaving three people with minor injuries.

He stopped at The Moorings apartment complex, where winds ripped the roof off of at least two buildings. A tangled wall of tree limbs and power lines partially blocked the entrance to the apartment complex. A large oak tree fell on the side of one building and dozens of cars in the parking lot were smashed under a layer of wood, twisted metal, insulation and other debris.

“I was on the phone with my sister. I heard the trees flying through the air and hitting things,” said resident Sherman Matthews. “We are fortunate no one was killed.”

Residents in LaPlace, Louisiana, were cleaning up Wednesday after a tornado ripped up trees, tore roofs from houses and terrified local residents. Nearly 200 homes were damaged.

In one neighborhood, the hum of chain saws and generators could be heard as people cut downed trees, fixed damaged roofs and patched shattered windows. A trampoline was wrapped around a tree and houses were missing shingles or parts of roofs.

Darren Miller, 52, was helping his parents fix damage to their house after a decades-old oak tree had gone through the roof, causing water damage inside.

Miller was there the day before and saw the twister rip through. He was just coming back to the house from retrieving a laptop from his car, when the tornado hit. At one point, he said he couldn’t even see across the street. He ran into the house and told his family to hit the ground, just as the windows exploded.

“It felt like a long time but I guess you could say within a minute. It was real quick,” Miller said. “It will make your heart pump.”

Down the block, Rose Fuselier, 80, had a gaping hole where the front window once stood.

“The whole backyard is covered with trees and then my shed is torn up too. The roof is gone and the siding is partially gone,” she said. Still, she said others suffered damage even worse than hers: “I lucked out. I lucked out.”

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