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Severe storms and tornadoes swept through parts of the South from Tuesday into Wednesday morning, killing at least two people in Alabama and damaging homes, other buildings and downing trees in several states, officials said.
Two people were killed and at least one other was injured when a tornado hit Wednesday morning in the Flatwood area near Alabama’s capital, Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Christina Thornton told CNN.
“Thanks to the heroic efforts of our first responders many other lives were saved. We pray for our community as we mourn this tragic loss of lives,” Thornton said.
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At least 30 tornado reports have been made since Tuesday afternoon, mostly in central and southern Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in Louisiana, the Storm Prediction Center said. Winds also knocked down trees in Tennessee and Georgia.
Tornadoes decimate parts of Alabama
The tornado that killed two in the Flatwood area near Montgomery had winds estimated at 110 mph, the National Weather Service said. Tornadoes also are believed to have caused damage in the western and southwestern parts of the state, according to the service.
The weather service upgraded the tornado to an EF-2 with 115 mph winds late Wednesday. The update was based on the survey of significant tree damage and downed high-tension power lines in the area, the assessment noted.
An apartment complex was torn apart late Tuesday near Eutaw in Greene County, with its roof ripped off and missing walls exposing residents’ rooms, video from CNN affiliate WBMA showed.
The damage left some displaced residents taking shelter at a middle school, WBMA reported.
In Tallassee – 30 miles northeast of Montgomery – Joe Mays told CNN he, his wife Ashley and their three sons were asleep in their home when the severe weather phone alarms woke them up. They had just enough time to put on some clothes and figure out what was happening before the storm hit.
“By the time we figured out where it was, it was darn near on top of us and (we) just had enough time to get hidden in a little tiny wannabe hidey hole,” Mays said. “We were crammed in there, but I would have rather been crammed and made sure I had a hold of everybody than widen up and stay loose.”
They were hit by small bits of debris, like insulation and wood chips from their rabbit’s cage, and one of his sons got a scratch on his leg. Mays said their home was badly damaged, but they are hoping to save some of their belongings.
In nearby Hale County, many trees and some homes were damaged in the small town of Akron. One fallen tree rested on a home’s roof, images from WBMA and CNN affiliate WVTM showed. No injuries were immediately reported in Akron, county emergency management Director Russell Weeden said.
In Sumiton just outside Birmingham, a commercial building’s roof was blown off and struck a house, city officials said.
Mississippi storm sounded like ‘a train’
In Lowndes County east of Starkville, a tree fell through Mary Perkins’ trailer home, virtually slicing it in half.
The storm, which might have included a tornado, sounded “like a train coming through,” Perkins told CNN on Wednesday. No one was injured.
“I hope I can afford a trailer to get back in. … As old as I am, I don’t think about building a house. I hope for a trailer,” Perkins, a resident of the county for 34 years, said.
Volunteer firefighters helped some people who found themselves trapped in damaged buildings, Lowndes County Fire Coordinator Neil Austin said.
“We were successful in getting (to) some people that had to hunker down in their homes that were messed up,” Austin told CNN on Wednesday.
In the same county, a church’s steeple was blown off and a grocery store was damaged in the community of Steens on Tuesday evening, Cindy Lawrence, the county’s head of emergency management, told CNN. No deaths or injuries were reported in the county, Austin said.
Mississippi State University in Starkville briefly asked students to seek shelter during a tornado warning Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, classes at two of the school’s campuses were taught remotely and some dining halls were closed due to the threat. Regular operations were expected to resume Wednesday, the university said.
More than 41,000 without power in Southeast
Several homes were damaged in northern Louisiana’s Caldwell Parish, where the National Weather Service reports a tornado is believed to have struck Tuesday night, CNN affiliate KNOE reported. At least one home collapsed, with bricks, boxes, a mattress and other debris strewn around the area, KNOE video showed.
More than 41,000 power outages were reported in the Southeast late Wednesday morning, including 25,000 in Alabama, 12,000 in Tennessee and 4,000 in Mississippi, according to utility tracker PowerOutage.us.
Some parts of the South, including between Huntsville and Birmingham in Alabama, saw between 2 and 4 inches of rain Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the storm prediction center issued a rare “particularly dangerous situation” tornado watch, which is typically designated for the most significant severe-storm threats. That watch was in effect for central Mississippi, northeast Louisiana and southwest Arkansas through early Wednesday and has since expired.
CNN’s Ryan Young, Devon Sayers, Monica Garrett, Joe Sutton, Sharif Paget, Andi Babineau and Sara Smart contributed to this report.