FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — At least three people have died in fast-moving floodwaters in Texas as freezing rain and flooding pummeled the state and other parts of the central U.S. on Friday, with forecasters warning that the chilling weather would worsen over the holiday weekend.
Forecasters issued flash-flood watches and warnings from northern Texas up to St. Louis, with up to 4 inches of rain reported in some places as the storm slowly moved to the northeast. Freezing rain and strong winds have been blamed for several fatal accidents in Kansas and Texas since Thursday.
"There's a pretty substantial shield of rain extending from parts of Texas across a lot of Oklahoma and into the mid-Mississippi Valley," said John Hart, a meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
In North Texas, where more than 4 inches of rain fell overnight in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — pushing the annual rainfall total into the record books — three people died in separate accidents after being washed away in rapid floodwaters. At least one other person remained missing Friday night.
Firefighters in Garland, a Dallas suburb, found the body of a 29-year-old man inside a submerged Hyundai Elantra after the car was swept from a bridge. The body of a 33-year-old woman was found downstream from her vehicle just west of Fort Worth after it was washed off the road in waters flowing 10 to 12 feet above the banks of Rock Creek, Johnson County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tim Jones said.
Sheriff's deputies also responded to a high-water rescue early Friday after three people were swept into the water overnight. Two people were rescued, but the third person's body was later recovered near Mansfield, about 18 miles southeast of Fort Worth, sheriff's spokesman Tim Jones said.
Conditions were still too dangerous Friday night to search for a woman whose car was swept off a bridge hours earlier along Deer Creek, on the southern fringe of the city, Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman Kyle Coay said. A local sheriff's deputy was swept away trying to rescue the 70-year-old woman, but a dive team later found and rescued the deputy, who was clinging to a tree.
A total 55.23 inches of rain has been recorded at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport this year, topping the annual rainfall record of 53.54 inches set in 1991. More rain if forecast through Sunday.
In the Texas Panhandle, ice and snow covered dozens of major roads, bridges and overpasses. Winds whipping around snow also kept visibility low in some places, and about 100 crashes had been reported by midafternoon, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety office in Amarillo.
No highways in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains have been closed despite the icy conditions, but officials have been discouraging travel. Still, about 100 crashes had been reported as of Friday evening, said Trooper Cindy Barkley of the Texas Department of Public Safety office in Amarillo.
Extra troopers have been mobilized to patrol the glazed highways, including heavily traveled Interstate 40 where three people died Thursday when their van skidded across a median and under the trailer of a tractor-trailer. State troopers are trained to drive slower in icy conditions, "and I probably drive slower than all of them," Barkley said. "But we see people passing us all the time. It's so frustrating."
In Oklahoma, road crews have been applying salt and sand in the Panhandle and northwestern part of the state since Thursday amid an ice storm warning that was in effect until noon Saturday. Rain in the southeast closed some highways because of flooding.
"We definitely understand that people travel to see family and friends (for Thanksgiving), and have to travel back home. If people have to travel in these affected areas, definitely plan plenty of extra travel time and check conditions before they head out," Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cody Boyd said Friday evening.
He said motorists need to take "especially extra, extra caution when driving after dark in conditions like this."
The weather service also issued flood warnings throughout Arkansas, saying much of central and western Arkansas could see 5 to 7 inches of rain through Sunday, while the Ouachita Mountain region could get more than 8 inches.
The weather service issued a winter storm warning for sections of central and southern Kansas through early Saturday and said up to a quarter inch of sleet and ice could hit the state by Friday night.