At least seven people, including a child, died. thursday how severe storms swept across the south, where fierce winds sent residents running for cover, collapsed roofs on homes and knocked out power to thousands.
Damaged power lines, severed tree limbs and debris littered streets in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, where at least 35 preliminary reports of tornadoes were logged Thursday night, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
Six people died in Autauga County, central Alabama, where search efforts will continue on Friday, coroner Buster Barber told CNN.
“My prayers are with their loved ones and communities,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a tweet. “We are all too familiar with devastating weather, but our people are resilient. We will get through this and we will be stronger for it.”
A 5-year-old child was killed in Butts County, Georgia, after a tree fell on a car, county coroner Lacey Prue told CNN affiliate WSB.
In Selma, Alabama — known for its role in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and home to an estimated 17,000 people — the storms left a trail of widespread destruction.
Krishun Moore’s home was destroyed when a storm hit her neighborhood, causing her and her mother to take shelter in their bathroom, she said.
“All we heard was wind and the whole house was shaking,” Moore told CNN, adding that no one was injured.
At a Selma tax office, Deborah A. Brown said she and others had to run to safety after seeing what appeared to be a tornado heading down the street.
“We could have left, guys,” Brown says in a Facebook video. “We had to run for cover. We had to run and jump in the closet.
Thursday’s severe storms left more than 50,000 homes and businesses in the dark across Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, according to tracking website Poweroutage.us on Friday morning.
Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. urged residents to conserve water as their treatment facilities are affected by the power outages.
“We have to prepare and prepare,” Perkins said as temperatures in the area began to drop, with overnight lows over the next few days dropping below freezing.
The governors of Alabama and Georgia declared states of emergency in the stricken areas to help with rescue and cleanup efforts.
“We always keep in mind that while weather events are intriguing from a scientific perspective, they can result in profound and lasting impacts for people. Our thoughts are with those affected by today’s severe weather,” the National Weather Service in Birmingham said in a tweet.
In addition to the destruction caused by tornadoes and severe storms, devastating winds swept the region from Mississippi to Virginia.
In northeast Mississippi, several buildings were destroyed or severely damaged in Monroe County after a storm swept through Thursday morning, shows a video tweeted by the state’s emergency management agency. No injuries were reported there, the agency said.
An Alabama tornado reportedly stayed on the ground for at least 50 miles, causing damage to seven counties, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Gerald Satterwhite.
“It was a pretty significant tornado,” Satterwhite told CNN, adding that debris was thrown into the air at about 10,000 to 15,000 feet.
Damage from the tornado in Dallas County – home to Selma – spanned the entirety of the county, Coroner William Alan Dailey said in a video conference call.
Priscilla Lewis, who shared photos of the damage in Selma with CNN, said the damage made it nearly impossible to leave the city center on Thursday. No deaths were reported in Dallas County on Thursday, but some residents suffered injuries.
“This is a disaster area. Power lines and trees have gone down – that’s really dangerous,” Dallas County Probate Judge Jimmy Nunn said during a press conference.
In Autauga County, at least 20 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to Gary Weaver, deputy director of the county’s emergency management agency.
Several damage assessment teams will be in the field over the next few days across the area, the National Weather Service in Birmingham said.
Across the southern and central US, more than 160 reports of damaging winds have been filed in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.
Additionally, 19 reports of severe hail were recorded in Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia.
The storms are the latest bout of severe weather to turn deadly in the US, as many experts point to the adverse impacts of human-induced climate change as the cause of such extreme events. Millions in California are reeling from torrential rains that have flooded many areas of the state, killing at least 18 people and leaving thousands without power.
Due to the severe impact of the storms on some Georgia roads, some students were unable to leave four high schools south of Atlanta, according to the school system late on Thursday.
As of Friday morning, more than two dozen students were reunited with their families, the Griffin-Spalding County School System said in a social media post, after being forced to take shelter on school grounds as debris of the storm blocked access to the roads.
Spalding County, where the school district is located, declared a state of emergency on Thursday over a tornado reported in the community, officials said on Facebook, urging residents to take shelter there. Parts of the state were under tornado watch on Thursday night.
“Once you start hitting the roads, there’s no way you’re going to get where you’re going,” said TJ Imberger, director of public works for Spalding County.
The Griffin-Spalding School District will be closed on Friday as the area recovers from the severe storms.
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