ATLANTA, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- The death toll from severe storms in the U.S. Midwest and Southeast climbed Thursday as the spring-like weather surge continued its path toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Thursday afternoon, the toll climbed to include at least 11 people -- including a 7-year-old boy who was killed in Mississippi when the van he was riding in ended up in the storm's path on Highway 7, officials said.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also declared a state of emergency Thursday after forecasters say a minimum of 14 tornadoes touched down there, as well as Tennessee and Arkansas. Officials said at least one person was killed by the tornadoes in each of those states.
"It is difficult, particularly this time of year, to see such damage and know that heartbreaks go along with that damage, that families have lost loved ones," Bryant said at a news conference Thursday. "There's no good side to this, but at least the storm was not in highly populated areas, like a downtown."
The NWS said Thursday that the storm is losing strength as it moves east.
The emergency declaration allows the seven hardest hit counties in Mississippi to seek state assistance for damages.
At least 40 people were injured and at least seven died in Mississippi alone, along with three in Tennessee and one in Arkansas. Homes were damaged across the entire region and power outages have been commonplace.
The National Weather Service said a single "exceptionally long-track, violent tornado," possibly the longest on record, may have been on the ground for some 150 miles in the area.
"Deborah and I send our thoughts and prayers to the families who have lost a loved one, those who are injured, and those who will now have to rebuild," Bryant added. "Mississippians are resilient in difficult times, and we will meet this challenge head on for those that are in need."
Earlier Thursday, meteorologists predicted strong storms along a cold front from the southern Mid-Atlantic to parts of the Gulf Coast, with a probability of damaging wind gusts, heavy rain and brief tornadoes also occurring. By midday, the threat had decreased somewhat.
Friday, strong to severe storms may continue along the cold front from northwest Georgia toward eastern Texas and Louisiana, forecasters said.
"The threat for severe thunderstorms may remain relatively concentrated ... over parts of Georgia and Alabama," the NWS said Thursday. "A more marginal widely dispersed risk for severe storms exists from parts of the Mid-Atlantic region southwestward across the southern Appalachians to east Texas."