Recovery and search efforts continued in the south on Friday as severe storms and tornadoes ravaged the region, killing at least nine people, blowing roofs off homes and knocking out power to thousands.
At least seven people died in central Alabama’s Autauga County, while two others, including a 5-year-old boy, died in Georgia, authorities said. In those states and Kentucky, at least 35 preliminary tornado reports were recorded in storms that damaged power lines, snapped tree limbs and sent debris flying onto streets.
As searches continued Friday in Atouga County, state emergency management official Ricky Adams told CNN Friday that officials were not yet sure everyone who lived in the damaged homes had been accounted for.
“Our first priority today is continuing to save lives in any areas where search and rescue is underway,” said Adams, who put the county’s death toll at seven.
Coroner Buster Barber said earlier Friday morning that authorities there were “looking for more bodies.” It was not immediately clear if that would be reflected in the toll.
Just one county to the west, a massive tornado caused widespread destruction in the Alabama city of Selma, known for its role in the civil rights movement and home to about 17,000 people. At the Selma tax office, Deborah Brown and others had to rush to safety after seeing what appeared to be a tornado on the road, she said.
“We could have gone, yeah,” Brown said in a Facebook video. “We had to run for cover. We had to run and jump in the closet.
Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said at a news conference Friday that although the damage was “enormous,” no fatalities were reported.
The tornado in Selma was on the ground for at least 50 miles and damaged seven counties, National Weather Service meteorologist Gerald Satterwhite said. He said it was probably an EF-2 or EF-3 on the enhanced Fujita scale, meaning the twister had sustained winds of at least 111 mph.
In Buttes County, central Georgia, a 5-year-old child died after a tree fell on a car, the county coroner’s office said. A state employee was killed by falling debris responding to the storm, Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday.
Thursday’s severe storms left nearly 40,000 homes and businesses still in the dark across Georgia and Alabama Friday morning, according to tracking site PowerOutage.us.
Hurricanes have marked the latest extreme weather to turn deadly in the US, with experts pointing to a human-induced climate crisis as the cause of such extreme events. Millions of people in California are reeling from weeks of torrential rain that has killed at least 18 people and left thousands without power.
Selma’s mayor asked residents to conserve water after impacts to treatment facilities and storms led to cooler, despite sunny weather across the region.
“We’ve got to layer up and get ready,” Perkins said of the overnight minimum dipping below freezing over the next several days.
Governors in Alabama and Georgia declared states of emergency in affected areas to aid rescue and cleanup efforts.
“We are all too familiar with devastating weather, but our people are resilient,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a tweet. “We will get through it and be stronger for it.”
Along with the tornado and storm damage, damaging winds swept across the region from Mississippi to Virginia.
Across the southern and central US, more than 160 damaging wind reports were recorded in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. Nineteen severe hail reports were recorded in Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia.
In northeastern Mississippi, several buildings were flattened or severely damaged in Monroe County after the storm passed Thursday morning, the state’s emergency management agency tweeted a video. No injuries were reported there, the agency said.
Tornado damage in Alabama’s Dallas County — home to Selma — spanned the length of the county, Coroner William Allen said in a daily video conference.
Chrishun Moore’s home in Selma was torn apart when the storm sent her and her mother sheltering 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.
The damage in downtown Selma made it almost impossible to leave the area Thursday, said Priscilla Lewis, who shared photos with CNN. No deaths were reported in Dallas County as of Thursday, but some residents were injured.
“This is a disaster area. Power lines are down and trees are down — it’s really dangerous,” Dallas County Probate Judge Jimmy Nunn said at a news conference.
In neighboring Autauga County, at least 20 homes were damaged or destroyed, said Gary Weaver, deputy director of the county’s emergency management agency.
Damage survey teams will be in the field over the next several days across the region, the National Weather Service in Birmingham said.
As storm damage blocked roads in Georgia, some students were unable to leave four middle schools south of Atlanta, their school system said Thursday night.
On 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 they had to take shelter on school grounds because storm debris blocked roadways.
Spalding County declared a state of emergency Thursday due to the reported tornado, officials said on Facebook, urging residents to shelter in place. Tornado lashed some parts of the state on Thursday night.
“When you start getting on the roads, there’s no way to get where you’re going,” said Spalding County Public Works Director TJ Imberger.
The Griffin-Spalding School District will be closed Friday as the area recovers.