Around 8.5 million people from eastern Texas to northwestern Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas remain under tornado watches until 8 a.m. (9 a.m. ET), CNN Meteorologist Rob Shackelford said. Hail up to 1.5 inches in diameter and wind gusts to 75 mph are possible.
As the storm system moves east Tuesday, around 20 million people in the Lower Mississippi Valley and central Gulf Coast region will be under some threat of severe weather, Shackelford said, including large tornadoes, damaging winds and hail.
Major cities in the storm’s path include Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana, and Jackson and Gulfport in Mississippi, along with Houston, Memphis and Birmingham, Alabama.
The potential for strong tornadoes continues into this evening, the Storm Prediction Center warned. “Tornadoes occurring at night are more than twice as likely to be deadly as those during the day.”
About 18 million people from Texas to Alabama and north to Arkansas and Tennessee are under a flood watch Tuesday, Shackelford added. The system will weaken as it continues moving east Wednesday, bringing a slight risk of severe weather to areas including Atlanta and Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.
In Jacksboro, about 60 miles northwest of Fort Worth, it was a miracle more people weren’t injured, especially at Jacksboro Elementary School, which was sheltering a large number of students as a storm moved through and left its gymnasium badly damaged, Fire Chief Jeremy Jennings said.
The children were about to be released for the day when officials decided to have everyone go back inside, Jacksboro Police Chief Scott Haynes said.
The gym at Jacksboro High School was also badly damaged and the facilities will be unusable “for some time,” Jennings said.
Elementary school students got “pretty emotional” when they left the school and saw the damage caused by the storm, Burnett said.
‘Never seen anything nowhere near this’
In Jack County, home to Jacksboro, 60 to 80 homes were “demolished,” and a shelter has been set up for displaced families, officials there said.
“I’ve been a part of emergency services for 24 years here, I’ve never seen anything nowhere near this magnitude here,” Jennings, the fire chief, said. “Nothing like this, not even anywhere else in this county.”
Further south in the Austin area, several state agencies, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of Public Safety, are responding to storm damage in Williamson and Bastrop counties, Gov. Gregg Abbott said.
An emergency declaration was already in effect in Williamson County due to the recent fires and will apply to storm damage as well, Abbott said. “As we speak right now, I want everybody across the state that’s going through this to know, the state of Texas is going to be with you every step of the way,” the governor said.
A reported tornado moved through Round Rock in Williamson County around 6 p.m., authorities said.
While many homes, businesses and city-owned buildings sustained significant damage, only minor injuries were reported, Police Chief Allen Banks said. Emergency responders were still evaluating the damage to determine the number of buildings affected, he said. Round Rock is about 15 miles north of Austin.
A flash flood warning was issued early Tuesday for parts of Central Texas, including southern Austin. More than 800,000 people in the Austin area were under the warning, which expired overnight.
Abbott encouraged residents in storm-damaged areas to wait until morning to fully assess their property since doing so at night could be dangerous.
CNN’s Taylor Romine, Joe Sutton, Susannah Cullinane and Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.