Thunderstorms strike U.S. East Coast, leave thousands without power

(Reuters) - Severe thunderstorms blasted the U.S. East Coast with gusts of wind up to 50 miles per hour on Monday morning, knocking out power in thousands of homes and putting several states on flood watch, the National Weather Service said. More than 54,000 homes and businesses were without power in Pennsylvania, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, with 139,000 more outages reported across New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey. The National Weather Service forecast heavy rains and flash flooding would exist for the Northeast later on Monday. "This is an ongoing threat," said Brian Hurley, from the center. "There are short spin-ups, pockets of heavy rain and damaging winds that can still hit before this pushes off shore." The storm system picked up strength in the U.S. South over the weekend, where it spurred tornadoes that killed at least five people, including three children, officials said. The massive storm system sped from Texas eastward with dozens of twisters reported as touching down across the South from Texas through Georgia into Pennsylvania. The storm's cold front brought snow to Chicago on Sunday, with 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) reported in central Illinois. Two children, siblings aged three and eight, were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on the car in which they were sitting in Pollok, Texas, a spokeswoman for the Angelina County Sheriff's Department said. A third child, Sebastian Omar Martinez, 13, drowned late on Saturday when he fell into a drainage ditch filled with flash floodwaters near Monroe, Louisiana, Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office said. In another storm death nearby, an unidentified victim's body was trapped in a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, Louisiana, Springfield said. In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant said one person was killed and 11 injured over the weekend as tornadoes ripped through 17 counties and left 26,000 homes and businesses without electricity. In addition, three people were killed when a private jet crashed in Mississippi on Saturday, although Bryant said it was unclear whether it was caused by the weather. (Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Barbara Goldberg, Peter Szekely and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)