KILGORE — Mike Ashley just had a feeling, and it may have saved him and his wife.
As the wind-whipped deluge worsened outside their Kilgore home about 11:30 p.m. Friday, Ashley said he sensed danger, so he and wife Lisa got up and left the bedroom. Seconds later, a tree crashed through the roof and into the room.
“We were laying in bed and we just heard a noise — the wind,” Ashley said Saturday afternoon as a crew worked to remove the tree from where it crashed into their house. “Something told me I needed to get out of the bedroom. Thirty seconds later, the tree fell.”
Others weren’t as fortunate.
By Saturday evening, officials in Texas and across the South reported at least 11 deaths blamed on the storms that swept across the region late Friday and early Saturday, bringing high winds and unrelenting rain. The storms left tens of thousands without power across Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas as power poles were snapped and lines taken down. More outages were reported elsewhere along the storm’s long track to the east.
Four people, including two first responders, were killed in Texas. Three each died in Louisiana and Alabama, and one in Oklahoma.
No deaths or injuries had been reported in Northeast Texas, but nearly 1,300 customers remained without power, and cleanup was in full swing by Saturday evening across the area. At the peak of the outages, AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. said 29,300 customers were without power across its three-state service area.
SWEPCO said it expected to have power restored to virtually all of its Texas customers by late Saturday, with those in Louisiana expected to be back online by late today.
In Texas, two first responders were killed and another was critically injured Saturday morning in Lubbock when they were hit by a vehicle while working the scene of a traffic accident in icy conditions.
Police Officer Nicholas Reyna, 27, who had been with the department for one year, died at the scene. Firefighter Lt. David Hill, 39, was taken to a local hospital where he later died. Firefighter Matthew Dawson, 30, was hospitalized in critical condition.
Lubbock Police Chief Floyd Mitchell called it an “extremely tragic day” for the city.
Earlier Saturday in Nacogdoches County, a 44-year-old man died after a tree fell onto his home, trapping him inside.
Nacogdoches County Judge Greg Sowell said in a news release that rescue crews were called to the rural home just after midnight. The victim, Larry Hadnot Jr., was declared dead at the scene. Another person who was inside the house escaped with minor injuries, Sowell said.
Friday night in Dallas, another person died when a car flipped into a creek as severe thunderstorms passed through. Lightning from the stormy weather is suspected of causing two house fires in the North Texas cities of Burleson and Mansfield, but officials said no one was injured.
In Southeast Oklahoma, a 58-year-old man drowned Saturday after he was swept away from his stalled truck by floodwaters left by the storms. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Randall Hyatt of Wardville drove into floodwaters, causing his truck to stall. His body was found about 100 yards away.
In Alabama, three people were killed near Carrollton in Pickens County, the National Weather Service in Birmingham said via Twitter. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency said the deaths were caused by an “embedded tornado within a long line of intense thunderstorms.”
Earlier Saturday, just across the border in Louisiana, firefighters found the bodies of an elderly couple near their demolished trailer in Benton, the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office said via Facebook. The winds were so strong the home of the couple, in-laws of a parish deputy, was moved 200 feet from its foundation.
The National Weather Service in Shreveport said it determined Saturday that a tornado with winds of about 135 mph had touched down in Bossier Parish.
Also in Louisiana, Raymond Holden, 75, was killed in his bed when a tree fell on his home in Oil City, crushing him, according to the Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office.
In East Texas
In the Longview area, the storm downed trees, broke utility poles and snapped power lines. The National Weather Service said wind gusts were recorded at 48 mph in Longview and 59 mph in Bossier Parish.
The Rusk County Sheriff’s Office and Kilgore Police Department reported damage to homes and vehicles from trees falling on them, in addition to downed power lines.
“We’ve had several reports of trees and power lines in the roadways, as well as vehicles striking the downed trees. We are currently trying to get personnel to these to get the roads clear and safe for travel,” the Rusk County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday on Facebook.
Storm damage was described as “kind of widespread” in Kilgore and on CR 317 south of Henderson, said Patrick Dooley, deputy emergency management coordinator for Rusk County.
“Unfortunately it does look like we sustained more residential damage than originally believed,” Kilgore police said via Facebook Saturday morning. “We will be doing damage assessments in the area for a little while today, that may include launching a drone. If any residents have immediate needs, please contact us and we’ll try to give some direction or assist how we can. Remember, be very cautious in using contractors who are soliciting door to door. We’re already seeing them roaming the neighborhoods.”
Later Saturday, Kilgore police said city crews would be picking up storm debris Monday morning. “We ask that you cut the large limbs into smaller sizes and place it close to the road,” the department said via Facebook.
Other Longview-area police and fire departments said they had no reports of major damage by Saturday afternoon.
“There were reports of sporadic damage around town such as trees or limbs down and some power outages that can occur during thunderstorms, but nothing like we saw last May,” Longview city spokesman Shawn Hara said via email.
According to PowerOutage.us, Louisiana and Mississippi had more than 54,000 power outages. Entergy Arkansas reported nearly 42,000 power outages Saturday morning, mostly in the southeastern part of the state. More than 139,000 people were without power in Alabama, according to Alabama Power.
AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co. said that at the peak, about 29,300 customers were without power across its three-state service area. At 1 a.m. Saturday, that included about 8,300 in Gregg County alone.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation reported Saturday morning that portions of several highways in the southeastern part of the state were closed due to flooding. The Arkansas Department of Transportation said portions of several state highways across the state, particularly in the southeastern portion of Arkansas, were closed due to downed trees and power lines and because of flooding.
Many streams already were at or near flood levels because of earlier storms, and heavy rains could lead to flash flooding across the region, forecasters said.
Parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were under flash flood warnings or watches Saturday.
The storm, bringing the threat of ice and snow to the Chicago area, prompted the cancellation of about 1,000 flights Saturday at Chicago’s two main airports, complicating air travel nationwide.
The Chicago Department of Aviation’s online flight-tracking website showed that as of 10:30 a.m. Saturday about 950 flight cancellations were reported at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and more than 50 flights had been canceled at Midway International Airport.