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22 dead as powerful storms leave trail of destruction across several US states

A storm caused damage in Pryor, Oklahoma (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)
A storm caused damage in Pryor, Oklahoma (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

A series of powerful storms swept over central and southern parts of the US during the country’s Memorial Day holiday weekend, killing at least 22 people and leaving a wide trail of destruction and power outages.

The destructive storms caused deaths in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky and were just north of an oppressive, early season heatwave setting records from south Texas to Florida.

A tornado watch was issued from North Carolina to Maryland.

Kentucky governor Andy Beshear, who earlier declared a state of emergency, said at a press conference on Monday that five people had died in his state. The fifth death was a 54-year-old man who had a heart attack while cutting fallen trees in Caldwell County in western Kentucky, the governor’s office said.

The damage caused by a tornado in Valley View, Texas
The damage caused by a tornado in Valley View, Texas (Julio Cortez/AP)

The death toll of 22 also included seven deaths in Cooke County, Texas, from a tornado on Saturday that tore through a mobile home park, officials said, and eight deaths across Arkansas.

Two people died in Mayes County, Oklahoma, which is east of Tulsa, authorities said. The injured included guests at an outdoor wedding.

The tiny Kentucky town of Charleston took a direct hit on Sunday night from a tornado that the governor said appeared to be on the ground for 40 miles.

“It’s a big mess,” said Rob Linton, who lives in Charleston and is the fire chief of nearby Dawson Springs, hit by a tornado in 2021. “Trees down everywhere. Houses moved. Power lines are down. No utilities whatsoever – no water, no power.”

Further east, some rural areas of Hopkins County hit by the 2021 tornado around the community of Barnsley were damaged again on Sunday night, said county emergency management director Nick Bailey.

“There were a lot of people that were just getting their lives put back together and then this,” Mr Bailey said. “Almost the same spot, the same houses and everything.”

Destroyed homes in Valley View, Texas
Destroyed homes in Valley View, Texas (Julio Cortez/AP)

More than 400,000 customers across the eastern US were without power on Monday afternoon, including about 125,000 in Kentucky. Twelve states reported at least 10,000 outages earlier in the day, according to PowerOutage.us.

President Joe Biden sent condolences to the families of people who died. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the ground conducting damage assessments and he has contacted governors to see what federal support they might need..

It has been a grim month of tornadoes and severe weather in the nation’s midsection.

Tornadoes in Iowa last week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. Storms killed eight people in Houston earlier this month.

The severe thunderstorms and deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second highest number of tornadoes on record in the country.

Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said a persistent pattern of warm, moist air is to blame for the string of tornadoes over the past two months.

That warm moist air is at the northern edge of a heat dome bringing temperatures typically seen at the height of summer to late May.