Millions were left without power as a deadly winter storm gripped the southern and central United States Tuesday, as weather chaos elsewhere saw at least three people killed when a tornado smashed into their community.
Arctic conditions have brought record low temperatures to several states unaccustomed to — and ill prepared for — such extreme cold.
Hardest hit was Texas, where freezing conditions prompted utility companies to implement rotating blackouts to stop the power grid being overloaded by the surge in demand.
The winter storm spawned at least four tornadoes, according to Atlanta-based weather.com, including one in coastal North Carolina late Monday that killed at least three people and injured 10 more.
The twister tore into the southern part of the state late Monday, particularly impacting two coastal communities in Brunswick County.
“It is estimated that at least 50 homes were affected in the incident and several power lines were damaged, causing power outages,” Brunswick County Emergency Services said in a statement.
Photos and video broadcast by US media showed downed trees, flattened homes and smashed cars.
According to the Poweroutage.us tracking site, more than four million residential, commercial and industrial customers were without electricity in Texas as of Tuesday morning.
In the state capital Austin, the temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 degrees Celsius) — well below February’s average low of 45F. By contrast, thermometers in Anchorage, Alaska read 20F.
Uncommon scenes played out in Houston, where locals built snowmen and sledded.
“It’s lovely to see the white but very dangerous at the same time because people here don’t know how to drive in it,” Houston resident Michael, who only gave his first name, told AFP.
“You know they’re driving too fast.”
– Freezing rain –
In Mississippi, residents woke up to discover much of the Deep South state transformed into a snow-and-ice-covered landscape.
Authorities were struggling to clear roads, as they do not have snow plows because the state so rarely needs them, The New York Times reported.
At least 10 deaths have been linked to the recent bad weather, and authorities across the US urged residents to exercise caution in navigating the perilous conditions.
President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Texas on Sunday, providing federal assistance to supplement state relief efforts.
Weather-related emergencies have also been declared in Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas, Mississippi and Oregon — where more than 200,000 people were without power.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said the winter storm will move towards the northeast US before “making a beeline for eastern Canada.”
“But not before it causes heavy snow and freezing rain in parts of the eastern Great Lakes and New England,” the NWS said.
“This massive weather system is making its way across the country and ready to deliver a one-two punch of snow, ice and heavy winds across the entire state for the next two days,” he said in a statement.
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