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New Year's Eve storms pass, death toll rises
CHICAGO (Reuters) - New Year's eve storms that spawned tornadoes in the Midwest and a blizzard in the northern Plains dissipated on Saturday but the violent weather claimed a seventh victim with the death of a Missouri woman.
The National Weather Service ended a tornado watch for parts of Mississippi and Alabama, where the remnants of the severe thunderstorms that ripped through Missouri, Arkansas and southern Illinois on Friday passed through.
The death toll from the storms rose to 7 when a woman died Saturday morning at the University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia, where she had been airlifted after surviving the storm, Rolla Rural Fire Chief Bruce Southard said.
The woman was identified as Ethel Price, 69, the resident of a trailer north of Rolla. Another person in the trailer, Alice Cox, 74, died Friday at the scene.
Two other people were killed by the storms in Missouri and three in Arkansas.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon toured the severely damaged Sunset Hill area in suburban St. Louis Saturday, meeting with storm victims and giving credit to warning systems for saving lives. He then went to Rolla, where the Missouri deaths occurred.
Southard said the damage to Rolla, a Phelps County town of about 18,000 people, was devastating.
"But the community has pulled together. We are plugging along pretty good," he said.
In the northern Plains states, a blizzard warning for most of South Dakota expired at noon on Saturday and sections of interstate highways reopened, according to state officials.
"Road conditions in western and southern South Dakota improved quite a bit," a state Transportation Department spokesman said.
A mother expecting a baby in Timberlake, South Dakota, was taken to the hospital by police escort on New Year's Eve because of the blizzard, officials said.
Some vehicles were abandoned on highways during the blizzard but there were few accidents and no deaths or injuries reported, the South Dakota state officials said.
The state capital of Pierre received 13 inches of snow from the blizzard and temperatures were still at a frigid 5 degrees on Saturday, or well below zero considering the wind chill.
In Wisconsin, authorities reported multiple crashes and slide-offs on Friday night as freezing drizzle passed over the Coulee Region, turning roads to sheets of ice.
The Wisconsin State Patrol reported cars in the ditch along Interstate 90 in La Crosse County, but only two crashes. La Crosse County dispatch received multiple calls of slide-offs.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, Chicago saw the temperature plunge from a balmy 60 degrees on New Year's eve to the 20s on Saturday.
The clash of warm and cold air was the main reason for the unusually violent weather in the Midwest on Thursday and Friday, meteorologists said.
The freakish weather extended to the West as well. In southeastern Arizona, usually a place where snowbirds from northern states go to get some winter sun, there was a hard freeze overnight.
In Pittsburgh, the National Hockey League moved the start time for the annual outdoor winter classic game to the evening from the afternoon because it was raining during the day.
(Additional reporting by Bruce Olson in St Louis, John Rondy in Milwaukee and Peggy Gargis in Birmingham)
(Writing by Greg McCune, Editing by Peter Bohan)
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