Storms snarl US travel, threaten rare winter tornadoes

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Extreme US Weather Continues Through Waning 2015


CHICAGO (Reuters) - Snow, sleet and hail snarled transportation across swaths of the United States on Monday during one of the busiest travel weeks, after dozens died in U.S. storms that were part of a wild worldwide weather system seen over the Christmas holiday period.

See images of December winter storms in the U.S.:

16 PHOTOS
U.S. Pacific Northwest storms, December
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Storms snarl US travel, threaten rare winter tornadoes
A large fir tree fell on a house overnight and killed an elderly woman in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Heavy rain and wind has caused at least one death in the region. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Mike Ewing, co-owner of the Riverview RV Park, wades through floodwaters near a partially submerged car Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Puyallup, Wash., after he hooked up a pump to get rid of water that flooded RV's and other vehicles Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service says wind and rain are expected to slow Wednesday, but snow may continue to fall in the mountains. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A Columbia County Sheriff drives through a low point on the road while others line up to go through, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, in Portland, Or. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest for another night, causing mudslides and flooding roads, leaving an Oregon woman dead after a tree fell onto her house and sweeping seven people into a Washington river, where they were rescued. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/The Oregonian via AP)
Skykomish River floodwaters surround a house outside of Monroe, Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest early Wednesday, causing mudslides and flooding roads. (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com via AP)
Maintenance personnel look at a large sinkhole on Kane Drive in Gresham, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest early Wednesday, causing mudslides and flooding roads. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Fire and maintenance personnel look at a large sinkhole on Kane Drive in Gresham, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest early Wednesday, causing mudslides and flooding roads. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Bryce Carlson, 5, of Carnation, Wash., checks out the waterline on flooded NE 124th Street outside of Duvall, Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest early Wednesday, causing mudslides and flooding roads. (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com via AP) 
A truck is submerged floodwaters from the Snoqualmie River off of Tolt Hill Road in Carnation, Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest early Wednesday, causing mudslides and flooding roads. (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com via AP) 
A worker assesses damage from a large fir tree that fell on a house overnight and killed an elderly woman in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Heavy rain and wind has caused at least one death in the region. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Branches cover a car from a large fir tree that fell on a house overnight and killed a 60-year-old woman in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. as the Pacific Northwest was soaked by another night of heavy rain. More than 5 inches of rain have fallen on Portland since Sunday, and strong winds have uprooted trees from the saturated ground. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
A van drives down a flooded portion of Highway 203 outside Carnation, Wash. Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. Torrential rains pummeled parts of the Pacific Northwest early Wednesday, causing mudslides and flooding roads. (Genna Martin(/seattlepi.com via AP)
Garett Ricks, a manager of the Riverview RV Park, carries a basket as he wades through floodwaters, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, after he helped hook up a pump to get rid of water that flooded RV's and other vehicles Wednesday morning in Puyallup, Wash. The National Weather Service says wind and rain are expected to slow Wednesday, but snow may continue to fall in the mountains. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Johnson Creek swells near flood stage in Portland, Ore., as the Pacific Northwest was soaked by another night of heavy rain, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. The Oregon Department of Transportation says landslides and high water have closed parts of many state highways. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Workers survey damage from a large fir tree that fell on a house overnight and killed a 60-year-old woman in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015. as the Pacific Northwest was soaked by another night of heavy rain. More than 5 inches of rain have fallen on Portland since Sunday, and strong winds have uprooted trees from the saturated ground. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
Drivers drive through high water in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, as the Pacific Northwest was soaked by another night of heavy rain. The rain that has already drenched the region pushed many creeks and rivers to flood stage as residents in some communities stacked sandbags. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
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More than 40 people were killed by tornadoes and floods in the United States during the holiday season, where rare winter tornado warnings were issued in Alabama on Monday.

See also: Man is flung 800 feet from home by raging tornado

Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle were expected to bear the brunt of the of the day's strongest storms, AccuWeather senior meteorologist Michael Leseney said.

More than 2,900 flights had been canceled at U.S. airports by 7 p.m. EST (2400 GMT) on Monday, according to FlightAware.com, while another 4,000 delays were reported.

Chicago-area airports were worst hit with hundreds of flights canceled as the city was swept by sleet and hail and United Airlines granted exemptions from fees for some travelers impacted by the storms.

More than a foot (30 cm) of snow was forecast for southwestern Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, and snow was also falling in Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.

A flash flood warning was in effect in eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois, the National Weather Service said. Thirteen people died in flash floods in those two states during the weekend.

The storms came as other countries struggled with extreme weather and stressed holiday infrastructure.

In Britain, hundreds of troops were deployed and a government agency said a "complete rethink" of flood defenses was needed after swathes of northern England were inundated by rivers that burst their banks.

Severe weather also hit parts of Australia, where more than 100 homes were lost in Christmas Day brushfires.

Then on Sunday a freight train carrying sulphuric acid derailed in the Outback, and a Queensland Rail spokeswoman told local media that floods had stopped crews reaching the scene. (video: http://reut.rs/1R3QYwT)

LIVES AND HOMES LOST

The bad weather caused two candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, to cancel campaign events in Iowa.

In Arkansas, a 31-year-old man drowned in a flood-swollen creek about 65 miles northwest of Little Rock, authorities said on Monday. Six tornadoes were reported on Sunday - three in Arkansas, one in Texas, and two in Mississippi.

U.S. President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, called Texas Governor Gregg Abbott on Monday to receive an update and to offer his administration's continued support after weekend tornadoes that killed at least 11 people in the Dallas area and damaged about 1,600 structures and homes.

See also: 'Goliath' winter storm to wreak havoc across US

"The President relayed heartfelt condolences on behalf of himself and the First Lady for those who lost their lives and for the many people who lost their homes," Obama's office said in a statement.

One twister in the city of Garland, Texas, had winds of up to 200 miles per hour (322 km per hour) and killed eight people, including a 30-year-old woman and her year-old son.

"We are very blessed that we didn't have more injuries and more fatalities," Garland's Mayor Douglas Athas told CNN.

"RIPPED OUR WORLD APART"

In the Dallas suburbs of Garland and Rowlett, which were devastated by tornadoes on Saturday, many residents turned to social media to tell stories of survival and to ask for help finding lost pets.

Briana Landrum posted a photo of her living room couch surrounded by wreckage where her house once stood in Rowlett. Her two cats are missing, she wrote, and the freezing rain has made searching for her "sweet babies" difficult.

See images of winter storms in Texas:

18 PHOTOS
Tornadoes and storms wreak havoc on Texas, severe weather
See Gallery
Storms snarl US travel, threaten rare winter tornadoes
An emergency vehicle drives through a neighborhood in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, the morning after it was struck by a tornado. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
Michael Downard stands outside his house in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, the morning after it was struck by a tornado. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
Damage of a house is seen after Saturday's tornado spread out in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (AP Photo/David Warren)
Delores Downard salvages items from her son's house in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, the morning after it was struck by a tornado. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
Damage of vehicles and houses are seen after Saturday's tornado spread out in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (AP Photo/David Warren)
Bob Moore walks through his home in Rowlett, Texas, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, the morning after it was struck by a tornado. At least 11 people died and dozens were injured in apparently strong tornadoes that swept through the Dallas area and caused substantial damage this weekend. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
Twisted guard rails sit on the side of the road after night tornado in Garland, Texas on December 27, 2015. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said Sunday, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A heavily damaged residence is seen December 27, 2015 in the aftermath of a tornado in Rowlett, Texas. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Christmas tree lays in the wreckage of a family's home December 27, 2015 in the aftermath of a tornado in Rowlett, Texas. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A heavily damaged residence is seen December 27, 2015 in the aftermath of a tornado in Rowlett, Texas. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Barnes Bridge road is closed after night tornado in Garland, Texas on December 27, 2015. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said Sunday, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
An American flag placed by first responders is seen December 27, 2015 in the aftermath of a tornado in Rowlett, Texas. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - A heavily damaged area is seen December 27, 2015 in the aftermath of a tornado in Rowlett, Texas. At least 11 people lost their lives as tornadoes tore through Texas, authorities said, as they searched home to home for possible more victims of the freak storms lashing the southern United States. The rare December twisters that flattened houses and caused chaos on highways raised the death toll from days of deadly weather across the South to at least 28. AFP PHOTO/LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP / LAURA BUCKMAN (Photo credit should read LAURA BUCKMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man runs as sirens sound during a severe storm over downtown Dallas, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, in Dallas. The National Weather Service said the Dallas area was under a tornado warning Saturday. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Women walk as rain falls in downtown Dallas and weather sirens sounds Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015. The National Weather Service said the Dallas area was under a tornado warning Saturday. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
People run as weather sirens sound as a severe storm passes over downtown Dallas, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, in Dallas. The National Weather Service said the Dallas area was under a tornado warning Saturday. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
A Miami dance team member catches snowflakes during the third quarter of the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game between Miami and Washington State on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2015, in El Paso, Texas. A snowstorm accompanied by plunging temperatures was expected to leave up to 16 inches of snow in West Texas and much of New Mexico through Sunday evening, according to NWS meteorologist Brendon Rubin-Oster in College Park, Maryland. (AP Photo/Victor Calzada)
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"The roof fell on us one second and the next, it was gone," she wrote. "The tornado ripped our world apart."Ten deaths and 58 injuries were reported in Mississippi, and hundreds of homes were damaged, authorities said. One man recounted how a tornado swept his adult son through treetops before dropping him hundreds of feet away.

In flooded southern Missouri, dozens of adults and children forced from their homes took refuge at Red Cross shelters.

Red Cross spokeswoman Julie Stolting said there was no telling when they might be able to return home. "But we're feeding them, we're sheltering them, we're providing health services," she said.

In Oklahoma, Governor Mary Fallin extended a state of emergency for all 77 counties on Monday after freezing rain, ice and sleet left nearly 200,000 homes without power.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Heide Brandes in Oklahoma City, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas, Laila Kearney in New York, Sara Catania and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Emily Stephenson, and Jeff Mason in Hawaii; Writing by Mary Wisniewski and Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott and Diane Craft)

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