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Weekly wrap-up: Fort McMurray fire forces largest evacuation in Alberta's history; NASA reveals new lightning capital of world

While thunderstorms produced deadly flooding across portions of the United States this week, destructive wildfires spread rapidly and ravaged Fort McMurrary, Alberta.

Deadly flash flooding struck portions of the south-central United States on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1.

In Palestine, Texas, 64-year-old Lenda Asberry and her four great-grandchildren tragically drowned Saturday when they were caught in floodwaters after a nearby creek overflowed its banks. According to the Associated Press, at least six people died as a result of the storms, while 20-30 people in town were displaced.

In Louisiana, heavy flooding submerged streets and portions of major highways including Interstate 49. Water rescues were initiated on side streets and some areas from Lake Charles to Baton Rouge reported over half of a foot of rain.

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The deluge of rain was caused by a slow-moving front that ran into abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and ignited numerous thunderstorms, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rossio.

Meanwhile, a massive wildfire in Canada that began on Sunday ravaged northern Alberta, forcing over 80,000 to evacuate. The evacuation included the entire city of Fort McMurray, located about 430 kilometers (270 miles) north of Edmonton.

The Fort McMurray fire had already grown to over 85,000 hectares (328 square miles) in size by Thursday evening, officials said.

A state of emergency was declared for the entire province of Alberta and at least 1,600 structures were lost.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said it was the largest evacuation in the history of the province.

Five people were hospitalized with head injuries Thursday after an Allegient Air flight experienced severe turbulence while traveling from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to Pittsburgh, according to CBS News.

The plane had to divert to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida where the three passengers and two flight attendants eventually were taken to the hospital. Their conditions were not immediately known, CBS News reported.

NASA revealed this week that Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is the new lightning capital of the world.

According to a study that used observations from the Lightning Imaging Sensor onboard NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission, the lake averages a rate of about 233 flashes per square kilometer per year.

The study was produced by researchers from the University of São Paulo, the University of Maryland, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

The group hopes that the findings will allow forecasters and researchers around the world to better understand lightning and its connections to weather.

"Lake Maracaibo has a unique geography and climatology that is ideal for the development of thunderstorms," Dennis Buechler, of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said in a statement.

Several AccuWeather meteorologists and staff writers contributed content to this article.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kevin Byrne at Kevin.Byrne@accuweather.com, follow him on Twitter at @Accu_Kevin. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook.