Deadly winter storm system ravages U.S. South

HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. -- At least 10 people were killed in as spring-like storms mixed with unseasonably warm weather and spawned rare Christmastime tornadoes in the U.S.

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South, officials said Thursday. Emergency officials blamed the severe weather for injuring scores of others and destroying dozens of cars, homes and businesses.

The threat of tornadoes eased as the line of storms moved east Thursday and brought heavy rain and thunderstorms to Atlanta and the Carolinas. In the communities worst-hit by Wednesday's tornadoes, search parties hunted for missing people and volunteers helped clear debris on a day often reserved for gift wrapping and last-minute shopping.

Bobby Watkins and his wife huddled beneath their old oak dining table for shelter as storm winds roaring outside their Mississippi home tossed a barn onto their truck outside, tore the steeple off a nearby church and reduced a neighbouring building to rubble.

"Santa brought us a good one, didn't he?" Watkins said Thursday as the couple took a Christmas Eve stroll amid the destruction in rural Benton County, Mississippi. "I may have lost some stuff, but I got my life."

In Linden, Tennessee, Chris Shupiery wore a Santa hat as he cut fallen trees with a chain saw not far from a home in which two people died in the storm.

"I figured I'd come down here with my hat," Shupiery said. "I've been wearing it for Christmas, and this was just the right thing to do, come help a family in need. Suit up, try to cheer people up, and try to make them feel a little better with Christmas coming around."

From Alabama to New York, much of the country felt unusually warm temperatures in the 70s Fahrenheit (more than 20 degrees Celsius) on Christmas Eve and thousands were without power from Mississippi to Michigan.

The storms killed at least six in Mississippi, including a 7-year-old boy who died when the storm picked up and tossed the car he was in, officials said. Three were killed in Tennessee and one in Arkansas.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said the state had at least 40 injuries, some serious.

The threat of severe weather just before Christmas is unusual, but not unprecedented, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the national Storm Prediction Center. Exactly a year ago, twisters hit southeast Mississippi, killing five people and injuring dozens of others.

Schelzig reported from Linden, Tennessee; Associated Press writers Josh Replogle in Miami; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Claudia Lauer in Little Rock, Arkansas; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; contributed to this report.



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