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Deadly storms move east

A dangerous storm system that spawned a chain of deadly tornadoes over three days flattened homes and businesses, killing at least 35 and forcing frightened residents in more than half a dozen states to take cover and left tens of thousands in the dark.

As crews in Mississippi and Alabama turned from search-and-rescue efforts to cleanup, forecasters began to downplay their initially dire predictions of a third round of deadly twisters Tuesday. Meterologists said the storm system had weakened substantially by evening, although some tornado watches and warnings were still in effect for isolated areas.

The latest area of the country to be affected was the Florida Panhandle, where heavy rains and flooding left people stranded in their homes and cars Wednesday.

Escambia County spokesman Bill Pearson said fire rescue crews weren't able to respond to some calls because of road flooding around Pensacola. The county is moving boats and jet skis from beaches to streets for rescues.

The storm system is the latest onslaught of severe weather after a half-mile-(800-meter) wide tornado carved an 80-mile (130-kilometre) path of destruction through the suburbs of Little Rock, Arkansas, killing at least 15. Tornadoes or severe storms also killed one person in Oklahoma and two in Iowa on Sunday.

In North Carolina, the National Weather Service reported tornado touchdowns in five counties Tuesday, but the twisters caused only moderate structural damage to homes and toppled some trees. Two cities in the state reported extensive flooding from the storm system. No injuries were reported.

In Mississippi, officials said 12 people died Monday, including nine in Winston County, where hard-hit Louisville is the county seat. Three others died in separate traffic incidents.

The Winston County tornado caused water damage and carved holes in the roof of a medical centre, where the emergency room was evacuated Monday.

One victim was a woman who died in the day care centre she owned in the town of Louisville, county Coroner Scott Gregory told The Associated Press late Monday. Authorities were returning to the centre Tuesday.

One seriously injured child was evacuated, said state Rep. Michael Evans, who said authorities don't think any other children were in the centre during the storm.

In Tupelo, a community of about 35,000 in northeastern Mississippi known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, every building in a two-block area was damaged, officials on the scene said.

On Tuesday morning, a blanket of fog hung over the city as authorities switched from a search-and-rescue mission to cleanup duties.

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