Recovery underway after storms kill 17 in southern US

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At least eight people were killed as tornados struck parts of the densely populated Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, leaving much of the region in darkness, local officials and media reported late Saturday

At least eight people were killed as tornados struck parts of the densely populated Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, leaving much of the region in darkness, local officials and media reported late Saturday (AFP Photo/Tom Pennington)

Chicago (AFP) - Millions of residents in the southern United States struggled Saturday to recover from fierce storms and floods that officials say have left at least 17 people dead in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.

With more severe weather expected across the central United States, forecasters are warning of airport delays and flooded roads as travelers return home after the Christmas holiday.

Feeding on unseasonably warm air, storms left a trail of destruction in rural communities from Alabama to Illinois.

More than a dozen tornadoes were reported Friday in six southern states.

In Alabama, where Governor Robert Bentley has declared a state of emergency to deal with the heavy flooding, tornadoes uprooted trees and tore off rooftops, with one touching down in Birmingham, the state's most populous city.

"The damage was ... confined to approximately one square mile," Birmingham Fire Department Chief Charles Gordon told CNN. "We have three houses that collapsed."

No one died, but Gordon said victims were rescued from the debris.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Georgia counterpart Nathan Deal also declared states of emergency in counties affected by the weather.

In Mississippi, 10 people were confirmed dead on Saturday, the state emergency management agency said on Twitter. About 60 others were injured, it said.

Among the dead was a seven-year-old boy killed when a storm picked up and tossed the car he was travelling in, fire chief Kenny Holbrook told reporters in the town of Holly Springs.

Six fatalities were confirmed in Tennessee, including three people found dead Thursday in a car submerged in a creek, according to the fire department in Columbia, Tennessee.

Another person was killed in Arkansas.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service warned that while the heaviest rain was over for the southeastern United States, the central and southern plains states, especially Arkansas and Missouri, were now in for severe thunderstorms.

Flash flooding could be a "serious concern" from northeast Texas into Missouri, they said.

Flood warnings and advisories remained in effect Saturday in parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and other areas in the southeast.

The East Coast meanwhile was enjoying unseasonably warm weather, with record-setting temperatures during Christmas week in New York and Washington.