Hurricane-tossed Gulf Coast braces for more rain, wind

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Powerful storms are expected to continue Friday through a region still trying to recover from Hurricane Michael.

Storms covered a wide area of the country reaching from beaches to the Great Lakes, but howling wind and driving rain threw a particular scare into the Florida Panhandle, which was ripped apart by Hurricane Michael less than a month ago.

At least two people’s deaths have been attributed to the storms and at least 12 tornadoes had been confirmed by Thursday night in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, with the damage surveys expected to continue Friday.

Panama City spokeswoman Caitlin Lawrence said the storm system moving east through the Florida Panhandle on Thursday was the second significant rainfall the area has had since Michael hit on Oct. 10.

“We did have one really rainy and windy day last week,” she said.

Officials are concerned about heavy rain and any structures that have already been damaged, as well as loose tree limbs being toppled by strong wind or rain, Lawrence said. Hundreds of homes protected only by flimsy tarps were particularly vulnerable.

The Storm Prediction Center reported downed trees and utility lines from eastern Texas to northwest Alabama. The Southeastern storms left nearly 110,000 homes and businesses without electricity at the height, and both weather-related deaths occurred in wrecks.

In Texas, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook that Deputy Loren Vasquez, 23, had been on solo patrol for only three nights when her patrol car ran into water on a road and flipped late Wednesday while answering a rescue call.

Other deputies tried to free her from the overturned vehicle but couldn’t.

“Words will never express what our office is going thru and we can only ask for your prayers,” Sheriff R. Glenn Smith said in a statement posted on the site.

In Mississippi, the Department of Public Safety said Alcorn State University student Jayla A. Gray, 19, of Jackson died early Thursday when the car in which she was a passenger struck a tree that had fallen across a highway near the town of Port Gibson, which is about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of the capital of Jackson.

The driver and another passenger escaped injury, the agency said in a statement. Public Safety spokesman Kervin Stewart said the three were returning to campus after a Halloween party and early-morning meal; Gray was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the wreck.

Damage was heavy in nearby Natchez, where some people spent most of the day trying to cut up trees that fell on houses. Among the seven tornadoes confirmed in Mississippi were two in Adams County, which includes Natchez, and one in Claiborne County, which includes Port Gibson.

In Louisiana, a pair of twisters with top winds of 115 mph (185 kph) hit Washington Parish, north of New Orleans. Near Bogalusa, a mobile home rolled over, injuring two occupants. Two weaker tornadoes were also confirmed in and around Lake Charles, including one that damaged a vacant shopping center near McNeese State University.

In northwest Alabama, surveyors said a weak tornado with top winds of 65 mph (105 kph) caused tree damage near the Franklin County crossroads of Pogo.