By Ian Simpson
(Reuters) – Southern U.S. states began digging out on Thursday after severe storms including some 20 tornadoes pounded the region, flattening homes, downing trees and killing at least 10 people.
With about 100 million Americans expected to travel over the Christmas holidays, the National Weather Service forecast isolated severe thunderstorms from the mid-Atlantic region to the Gulf Coast and record warmth to New York.
The storm system on Wednesday packed high winds and triggered more than 20 tornadoes in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, authorities said.
A large tornado tore a 100-mile (160-km) path through northern Mississippi, demolishing or heavily damaging dozens of homes and other buildings in a six-county area before plowing into western Tennessee, authorities said.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for seven of the state’s counties.
“This could have been a lot worse. We’re just praying everybody can have a recovery,” Kelvin Buck, the mayor of Holly Springs, Mississippi, told CNN.
He said he was out assessing the damage and emergency workers were looking for any other victims from the tornado, which killed a 7-year-old boy in the area.
A spokesman for the Mississippi Highway Patrol told CNN that six people were killed in the state and 40 were injured. Three people died in Tennessee and one in Arkansas, according to authorities.
Thirteen counties in Tennessee reported damage, with a post office destroyed and a state highway washed out. Up to 15 homes were damaged in McNairy County, the state emergency management office said.
Emergency crews in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee were searching for several people reported missing.
Scores of people were injured in the region.
An 18-year-old Arkansas woman died and a toddler was injured when a tree crashed into a house after being uprooted by powerful winds, according to emergency officials.
In Michigan and Wisconsin, about 15,000 homes and businesses were without electricity after winds reaching 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) downed power lines. The National Weather Service issued a gale force wind warning for Lake Michigan, where waves could reach 15 feet (4.6 meters).
The storms on Wednesday snarled holiday travel plans in Florida, and the American Automobile Association predicted 100 million Americans were expected to travel during the holiday period beginning on Wednesday, 91 million of them by car.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Jason Neely, Jeffrey Benkoe and Paul Simao)
Photographed through raindrops on a window, a worker makes his way toward a plane parked at Reagan National Airport in Washington December 23, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque