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1 dead as tornadoes move across Texas

Tornadoes sweeping across Texas killed one person, sent at least a dozen people to the hospital and caused widespread damage in rural counties around Waco, officials said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tornadoes sweeping across Texas killed one person, sent at least a dozen people to the hospital and caused widespread damage in rural counties around Waco, officials said.

One person was killed when a tornado struck a home in Limestone County, Sheriff Dennis Wilson said. He did not have any details about the victim, or whether others were injured.

"We're just trying to button down and do an assessment," Wilson said.

More than a dozen people were admitted to Limestone Medical Center in Groesbeck with injuries ranging from minor to trauma-type wounds, hospital spokeswoman Sherald Wood said.

Strong winds and heavy rains damaged many structures around the area, she said.

"This is a wide swath, it involves a lot of land to cover," Wood said.

Around Waco, television footage showed split trees and snapped limbs in the Oglesby area in Central Texas. At least one mobile home in the area was flipped upside down.

The tornadoes were part of a winter weather system that forecasters said could dump as much as 10 inches of snow to parts of the South Plains and Panhandle.

The tornado warning forced President Bush and first lady Laura Bush to move to an armored vehicle outside a shelter on their ranch in Crawford, just west of Waco.

The system could dump as much as 5 inches of rain on some parts of East Texas as holiday travelers hit the roadways for New Year's, National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Barritt said.

Winds in areas of North Texas could reach 60 mph Friday with large hail possible in isolated areas, forecasts showed. Local flooding was possible as heavy rains moved across the state.

By noon Friday, authorities had closed Interstate 40 from Amarillo to Albuquerque, and were preparing to do the same to U.S. 87 around Dalhart in the northwestern Panhandle should conditions worsen, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Wayne Beighle in Amarillo said.

In Amarillo, "there'll be a much greater chance of it being iced up tomorrow," Barritt said.

The 10-inch snowfall was possible north of a line from Morton to Plainview, between Lubbock and Amarillo, with most of it falling overnight Friday and ending midday Saturday.

The road closure in Texas wasn't initially prompted by treacherous conditions. But since New Mexico authorities closed the interstate Thursday night between Tucumcari and Albuquerque, hotels for travelers are nearly full heading into Texas. DPS wanted to avoid the dangers inherent to stranded motorists.

"Plus, the brunt of the storm is still yet to hit our areas," Beighle said. "It could be ugly up here the next 24 to 36 hours."

The storm system is the result of heavy snowfall and cold air across the Southern Rockies that was expected to move into the Plains on Friday. Southeasterly winds earlier this week brought in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico that increased the chances of rain.

"If it happens to be cold enough, it's snow," Barritt said. "Otherwise, it's rain."

Poor travel conditions
Travel conditions will be poor across most of Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Drivers in West Texas and eastern New Mexico should be watchful for slippery roads and blowing snow with occasional blizzard conditions.

The storm is the second in West Texas the past two weeks. Amarillo, Lubbock and much of West Texas saw snow and ice Dec. 19-20. Authorities shut down I-40 between Amarillo and Albuquerque for about 13 hours.

Not only did the storm come on the cusp of the New Year's holiday weekend, but revelers will be on the road after consuming alcohol, Beighle said.

"This could be a very dangerous weekend for us," he said.