Selma, Ala. (AP) — A giant storm system billowing across the South Thursday killed at least six people in central Alabama, as a tornado tore off roofs and uprooted trees in the historic city of Selma, while another person was killed in Georgia. , as strong winds caused power outages for tens of thousands of people.
In Otoga County, Alabama, 41 miles (66 km) northeast of Selma, at least six deaths were confirmed and an estimated 40 homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado that cut a 20-mile (32 km) path through two rural communities. said Ernie Paget, the county’s director of emergency management.
Several mobile homes were launched into the air and at least 12 people were injured seriously enough to be taken to hospitals by emergency responders, Paget told the Associated Press. On Thursday evening, he said, crews focused on cutting fallen trees to search for people who might need help.
“It has already done a great deal of damage. This is the worst I have seen here in this county,” Paget said.
In Georgia, a passenger died when a tree fell on a car in Jackson during the storm, Butts County Coroner Lacey Brough said. In the same county southeast of Atlanta, officials said the storm appeared to derail a freight train.
Officials in Griffin, south of Atlanta, told local news outlets that several people were trapped inside an apartment complex after trees fell on it. Firefighters also clipped a loose griffin man who had been pinned for hours under a tree that fell on his home. A high school was damaged, and students at four middle schools were held until parents picked them up after officials decided it was unsafe to operate the buses. The city of Griffin imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday.
School systems in at least six Georgia counties on the southern fringes of metro Atlanta canceled classes on Friday. These systems enroll a total of 90,000 students.
Nationally, there were 33 separate tornado reports Thursday from the National Weather Service as of Thursday evening, with a few tornado warnings in effect in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. However, the reports are yet to be confirmed and some of them could later be classified as wind damage after assessments are made in the coming days.
In Selma, a city engraved in the history of the Civil Rights Movement, a tornado cut a wide path through the downtown area, with brick buildings toppled, oak trees uprooted, cars on their sides, and power lines left down. Plumes of thick black smoke billowed over the city from a blazing fire. It was not immediately known if the storm caused the fire.
Selma Mayor James Perkins said no deaths were reported, but several people were seriously injured. Medics are continuing to assess damage and officials hope 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.”
With widespread power outages, the Selma City Council convenes a sidewalk meeting, using cellphone flashlights, to declare an emergency. Officials said a high school was opened as a shelter.
Matty Moore was among Selma residents who received tin-packed meals provided by a downtown charity.
“Thank God we’re here. It’s like something you see on TV,” Moore said of all the devastation.
Selma, with a population of about 18,000, is located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery. It was a flashpoint for the civil rights movement and Alabama troopers viciously attacked black voting rights advocates as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.
After the hurricane passed, Kreishon Moore ran out of her home to the sounds of children screaming and crying. She and her mother encouraged the children to keep screaming until they found the two on the roof of a damaged apartment. She estimated that the children were about 1 and 4 years old. Both are fine, she said via Facebook messenger.
Malisha McVay and her family drove parallel to the hurricane. She said she was less than a mile (less than 2 kilometers) away from her home before turning abruptly.
“We stopped and prayed. We followed her and prayed.” “It was 100% divine that he turned right before he hit my home.”
I took a video of the giant tornado, which would turn black as it swept through house after house.
“It was hitting a house, and black smoke was coming up,” she said. “It was very terrifying.”
About 40,000 Alabama customers lost power Thursday night, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages across the country. In Georgia, about 86,000 customers were without power after the storm system made its way through a layer of county south of Atlanta.
Local media reported that the storm hit the city of Griffin, south of Atlanta, where winds destroyed a shopping district. The Hobby Lobby store partially lost its roof, and at least one car was flipped over in a nearby Walmart parking lot.
Damage was also reported west of downtown Atlanta in Douglas County and Cobb County, where the Cobb County government released a damage report showing a crumbling concrete block wall at a warehouse on the outskirts of Austell.
In Kentucky, the National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed that an EF-1 tornado had struck Mercer County and said crews were surveying damage in a few other counties.
Three factors — the natural weather cycle at La Niña, the warming of the Gulf of Mexico likely related to climate change and the decades-long shift of hurricanes from west to east — combined to make Thursday’s hurricane outbreak unusual and damaging, Victor Gensini said. Professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University who studies hurricane trends.
Gensini said the La Nina River, a cooling of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather around the world, was a factor in creating an undulating jet stream that gave rise to a cold front. But this is not enough for a tornado outbreak. What we need is moisture.
The air in the Southeast is usually fairly dry at this time of year, but the dew point was twice that of what is normal, most likely due to the unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, which are likely to be affected by climate change. That dampness hit the cold front, Gensini said, and everything was in place.
Associated Press writer Alena Hartonian in Phoenix, Arizona; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Seth Bornstein in Denver; Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky; Christopher Weber in Los Angeles; Photographer Butch Dale in Selma, Alabama, contributed to this report.