(Reuters) – Severe storms unleashing tornadoes, heavy rain & hail across the southern & central United States left at least six people dead & dozens injured while snarling traffic as holiday travel began in earnest for the Christmas holiday weekend.
The stormy weather scrambled winter getaway plans in Florida even as dreams of a white Christmas melted in northeastern swaths of the country where unseasonably warm temperatures prevailed.
A large tornado raked a 100-mile stretch of northern Mississippi in the late afternoon, demolishing or heavily damaging dozens of homes & other buildings in a six-county area before plowing into Tennessee, authorities said.
p> Three people were confirmed dead from the storms in Mississippi, including a 7-year-old boy, two more in Tennessee & one in Arkansas, according to emergency management & law enforcement officials in the region.
Among the storm-related fatalities in Mississippi were a man & a woman, both in their 60s, who were killed separately when a tornado destroyed their homes in Benton County, Mississippi, said state Highway Patrol Sergeant Ray Hall.
A few more people remained unaccounted for as search teams combed through debris after dark, he said.
Travelers make their way through Reagan National Airport in Washington December 23, 2015. REUTERS/K …
Gregg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, reported more than 40 injuries in the six hardest-hit counties.
In Tennessee, clobbered by multiple twisters, state Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener confirmed two storm-related fatalities in Perry County – one male & one female of undetermined age.
"It received to middle Tennessee & went 'Ka-pow'," Flener said of the storm system.
An 18-year-old Arkansas woman died & a toddler was injured when a tree crashed into her house after being uprooted by powerful winds during a storm, according to emergency officials there.
States from Louisiana to Illinois were under a tornado watch on Wednesday. Possible tornado damage was moreover reported near Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photographed through raindrops on a window, a worker makes his way toward a plane parked at Reagan N …
More than 100 million Americans were expected to travel during the holiday period beginning Wednesday – 91 million of them by car, according to the American Automobile Association.
In the Northeast, where warmer weather spared drivers the crippling delays wrought by winter storms, traffic was heavy, with more rain expected until Thursday in & around New York.
In New Jersey alone, more than 2 million vehicles had been expected to hit the roads on Wednesday.
In California, 11 million people were planning to travel by car between Dec. 23 & Jan. 3, & another one million were planning to fly to their destinations.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service said it received reports of hail as large as golf balls falling in parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri & Oklahoma.
Weather Service meteorologist Greg Carbin said travelers in Georgia, New York, Tennessee & Ohio were likely to experience some weather-related delays on Wednesday evening.
Travel in Minnesota was moreover briefly disrupted when Black Lives Matter activists protesting against a spate of police killings of unarmed black people nationwide, shut down roadways to both terminals at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, an airport spokesman said.
Protesters in California blocked traffic near San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday as part of the same "Black Xmas" protest.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks & Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Therese Apel in Jackson, Miss., Tim Ghianni in Memphis, Tenn., & Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Additional reporting & writing by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel)
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