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Tornadoes rip South; rain, snow, wind batter midsection

NEW ORLEANS — A Christmas Day tornado outbreak left damage across the Deep South while holiday travelers in the nation’s much colder midsection battled sometimes treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions.

Conditions were volatile throughout the afternoon and into the night, with tornado warnings in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The storms were blamed for two deaths, several injuries, and left homes from Louisiana to Alabama damaged.

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In Mobile, Ala., a tornado or high winds damaged homes and knocked down power lines and large tree limbs in an area just west of downtown around nightfall, said Nancy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Mobile County Commission. WALA-TV’s tower camera captured a large funnel cloud headed toward downtown.

‘‘We haven’t verified what it was, but we have an area that we heard has damage to homes,’’ she said.

Earlier in the day, winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck in the Houston area, killing the driver. Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, and the Highway Patrol said a 28-year-old woman was killed in a crash on a snowy US highway near Fairview.

Freezing rain and sleet made for a sloppy Christmas trek in the middle of the country, while residents along the Gulf Coast faced thunderstorms and high winds that were doing damage in some areas.

Trees fell on a few houses in central Louisiana’s Rapides Parish, but there were no injuries reported so far and crews were cutting trees out of roadways to get to people in their homes, said sheriff’s Lieutenant Tommy Carnline. Possible damage also was reported near McNeil, Miss.

Fog blanketed highways, including arteries in the Atlanta area where motorists slowed as a precaution. In New Mexico, drivers across the eastern plains had to fight through snow, ice, and low visibility.

Meanwhile, blizzard conditions were reported in parts of Illinois, Indiana, and western Kentucky with predictions of 4 to 7 inches of snow.

About a dozen counties in Missouri were under a blizzard warning from Tuesday night to noon Wednesday.

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