Death toll in weekend storms rises to 19

Two people were killed when this trailer home was destroyed by storms in Benton County.
Two people were killed when this trailer home was destroyed by storms in Benton County.
Family members talk to a coroner after two people died when a trailer home was destroyed in Benton County, Mississippi.
Family members talk to a coroner after two people died when a trailer home was destroyed in Benton County, Mississippi.
Damage near Abbeville, Mississippi. (Source: Tony Russell)
Damage near Abbeville, Mississippi. (Source: Tony Russell)

BENTON COUNTY, MS (WMC-TV) - A total of 19 people were killed in strong storms that swept through the Mid-South and into central Tennessee.

In Benton County, officials believe a tornado touched down overnight near the Tippah and Benton County Lines.  Two people were killed, and additional people may be missing.

Trooper Ray Hall said early Sunday morning that search and rescue workers were looking for victims in an area where several homes were destroyed.  A command post was set up near Black Jack Road and MS 370.

Hall also said there were about five accidents, such as hydroplaning, Sunday.  The Highway Patrol urged motorists to stay off the roads in north Mississippi because of the flooding.

Meanwhile, one person died around 3:30 a.m. when storms hammered Abbeville, Mississippi. According to journalist Tony Russell, a house and mobile home was demolished during the overnight storm.  The victim's name has not been released.

In Hardeman County, Tennessee, one person was killed and two people were injured during strong storms near Pocahontas.  Hardeman County EMA Director Don Taylor said Mary Buxton, 64, was killed when a tornado lifted the mobile home she was in and set it back down on top of her.  Buxton's mobile home was located in the 700 block of Tomlinson Road.

The death toll from floods in Nashville climbed to five Sunday night.  At least 11 people have been killed across Tennessee, six in Mississippi, and two in Kentucky.

A line of strong thunderstorms Saturday dumped at least 10 inches of rain on Memphis and produced tornadoes and hail along the Mississippi River Valley in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and northward.

The southwestern part of the state was extremely hard hit, with several Memphis-area streets declared impassable.

In McNairy County, Tennessee, emergency management officials asked residents to stay off roadways due to flooding and storm debris removal.

In Alcorn County, Missouri, people were rescued from flooding in their homes by boats.  The Crossroads Arena in Corinth was opened to house displaced flood victims.

Emergency officials in Shelby County said hundreds of people were being evacuated due to high water, including residents of the Navy base and inmates at a federal prison.

Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, said most of the roads into and out of Millington had been cut off by flooding.

At the Baker Community Center in Millington, where a Red Cross shelter was set up, retiree Joe Curry, 74, said he and his wife were rescued from their home in a boat Saturday morning after the water had risen to 7 feet.

"It rose so fast we couldn't get out," said Curry, who spent the day at the Red Cross shelter until family members could pick him up. "It's a mess."

Erick Hooper, 19, said there was water in his living room when he woke up Saturday morning.

"It kept rising, and it was too cold to swim, so I went on the roof," he said.

Hooper spent the day on the roof of the mobile home until rescuers picked him up in a boat. A pillow and a blanket were all he managed to take with him.

Jerry Fritts of the Red Cross said about 100 people were expected to spend the night at the Millington shelter. "So many roads are blocked that some people have waited all day for their family to come get them," Fritts said.

Waters were washing away parts of roads and bridges in the Jackson area, said Marty Clements, director of the Jackson-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

"We've basically become an island because the major highways and roads are cut off," he said Saturday evening. "We can't get in or out."

Clements said there have been gas leaks and water main breaks due to the flooding and both area hospitals were running on generators temporarily during the day.

He said emergency officials have asked all events be canceled on Sunday, even church services, to keep people from trying to venture out in the floodwaters.

Charles Shannon, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department, said one person drowned in flood waters on Interstate 24 south of Nashville.

Segments of Interstate 40 were closed between Nashville and Memphis. Pooling water in the median and along the sides of the highway gave some sections the appearance of a causeway.

Up to 12 inches of rain fell along areas of Interstate 40 since midnight and up to 6 more inches was expected through Sunday.

The same line of storms pummeled parts of Arkansas on Saturday: At least two more tornadoes touched down but no injuries or major damage was immediately reported.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency after visiting a community south of Little Rock hit hard by Friday's storms, and he was scheduled Sunday to visit heavily damaged areas north of the city.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour also declared a state of emergency in some Mississippi counties.

The Memphis City Council met Sunday afternoon to get an overall assessment of the storm damage from division heads and Mayor AC Wharton.

One of the hardest hit areas in terms of severe flooding was the Raleigh-Frayser area.  Bill Morrison represents District 1 and said while things are bad, the city pulled together.

"The most impressive thing is neighborhoods came together, city services came together and we answered every call we received," Morrison said.  "We got right of as much water as possible."

Mayor Wharton said he will not give out any preliminary damage assessments until all the facts have been received in terms of total numbers.  He said he will work to get those numbers in as quickly as possible in order to apply for state and federal assistance.

Copyright 2010 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.  The AP contributed to this story.