An “extremely dangerous” storm system swept across the US South, causing widespread destruction of homes and killing at least eight people, authorities said Thursday.
At least 34 preliminary tornadoes swept across the states of Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, where the storms tore roofs off homes, uprooted trees and power lines and left tens of thousands of people without power, the Storm Prediction Center said.
In Alabama’s Autauga County, at least six people were confirmed dead in various storm-related incidents, said Ernie Baggett, the county’s emergency management director.
“It really did a fair amount of damage. This is the worst I’ve seen here in this county,” Baggett said.
An initial estimate suggested that around 40-50 homes were damaged or destroyed by the powerful storms that cut a swath across the county.
In Georgia, a tree fell on a vehicle in Jackson as the storm tore through the state, killing a passenger inside the car. It also derailed a freight train in the same county southeast of Atlanta, officials said.
“There are some houses that were completely destroyed that haven’t been searched yet,” Autauga County Coroner Buster Barber said late Thursday, adding that crews are “still searching through rubble.”
A number of people were reported trapped inside an apartment complex after trees fell on it, officials in Griffin, south of Atlanta, told local news outlets.
Firefighters had to cut a man free after he was trapped for hours under a tree that fell on his home in Griffin.
Videos from Selma, a city known for its civil rights history, showed a tornado cutting a wide path through the downtown area where buildings collapsed, oak trees fell, cars flipped or crashed into each other and power lines were left hanging.
Thick plumes of black smoke were seen rising over the city from a fire that was burning. It was not immediately known if the storm caused the fire.
Selma Mayor James Perkins said no deaths have been reported yet, but several people were seriously injured. He said first responders were continuing to assess the damage and officials hoped to get an aerial view of the city Friday morning.
“We have a lot of downed power lines,” he said. – There is a lot of danger in the streets.
After the powerful tornado caused destruction, Krishun Moore, a resident of the town of about 18,000 people, emerged from her home to the sound of children crying and screaming.
Moore and her mother encouraged the children to keep screaming until they found two of them on top of the roof of a destroyed apartment.
Another resident, Malesha McVay, who captured terrifying footage of a twister as she drove parallel to the tornado with her family, said it was only less than a kilometer away from her home before it flipped.
“It would hit a house and black smoke would swirl up,” she said. – It was very frightening.
About 40,000 homes were without power in Alabama Thursday night, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks power outages across the state.
In Georgia, about 86,000 customers were without power after the storm system cut a path across a number of counties just south of Atlanta.
Elmore County, Alabama, suffered “a large portion of damage in the northwest part of the county,” said Keith Barnett, director of the county’s emergency management agency.
Thursday’s tornado outbreak was unusual and damaging because of three factors: a natural La Nina weather cycle, warming of the Gulf of Mexico likely related to the climate crisis and a decade-long shift of tornadoes from west to east, said Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor.