‘Extremely dangerous’ tornado slams into historic Selma, Alabama
A massive storm system whipping up severe winds and spawning tornadoes cut a path across the U.S. South, killing at least nine people in Georgia and Alabama, where a twister damaged buildings and tossed cars in the streets of historic downtown Selma.
Authorities said a more comprehensive picture of the damage and a search for additional victims would come Friday, when conditions were expected to clear. Early Friday, tens of thousands of customers remained without power across the two states.
In Selma, a city etched in the history of the civil rights movement, the city council declared a state of emergency Thursday.
Seven of the deaths were recorded in Autauga County, Ala., 66 kilometres northeast of Selma, where dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed.
The U.S. National Weather Service confirmed at least five tornadoes had touched down in the central Alabama region.
One tornado cut a 32-kilometre path across two rural Alabama communities before the worst of the weather moved across Georgia on a track south of Atlanta.
Young child among those killed
In Georgia, a tree fell on a car, killing a five-year-old child and leaving an adult passenger in critical condition as they were driving home, Butts County Coroner Lacey Prue said.
Also in Georgia, a passenger died when a tree fell on a vehicle in Jackson during the storm, Butts County Coroner Lacey Prue said. In the same county southeast of Atlanta, the storm appeared to have knocked a freight train off its tracks, officials said.
At least 12 people in Alabama’s Autauga County were injured severely enough to be taken to hospitals by emergency responders, Baggett said.
He said about 40 homes were destroyed or seriously damaged, including several mobile homes that were launched into the air.
The National Weather Service said suspected tornado damage was reported in at least 14 counties in Alabama and five in Georgia.
A few blocks past Selma’s famed Edmund Pettus Bridge, an enduring symbol of the voting rights movement, buildings were crumpled by the storm and trees blocked roadways.
Selma, a city of about 18,000 residents, is about 80 kilometres west of the Alabama capital of Montgomery.
The outer siding of a two-storey building was shredded by the storm, photos from The Selma Times-Journal showed. Huge pieces of insulation and metal were wrapped around the trunk of a tree, and fallen tree branches obscured a sign proclaiming “WELCOME TO HISTORIC SELMA.”
Malesha McVay drove parallel to the tornado with her family. She says it got less than two kilometres from her home before suddenly turning.
She took video of the giant twister, which would turn black as it swept away home after home.
“It would hit a house and black smoke would swirl up,” McVay said. “It was very terrifying.”
WATCH | A funnel cloud is spotted a short distance from Selma:
Storm system spawns tornado in Alabama
A funnel cloud is seen north of Prattville, Ala., Thursday. The U.S. National Weather Service described a tornado that ripped through nearby Selma as ‘large and extremely dangerous.’
Selma was a flashpoint of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Alabama state troopers viciously attacked Black people advocating for voting rights as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. Among those beaten by law enforcement officers was John Lewis, whose skull was fractured. He went on to a long and distinguished career as a U.S. congressman.
About 22,000 customers were without power in Alabama early Friday, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide. In Georgia, about 23,000 customers remained without electricity after the storm system carved a path across a tier of counties just south of Atlanta.
Officials in Griffin, south of Atlanta, told local news outlets that multiple people had been trapped inside an apartment complex after trees fell on it. Firefighters also cut a Griffin man loose who had been pinned for hours under a tree that fell on his house. A high school was damaged, and students were held at four middle schools for parents to pick up after officials determined it was unsafe to run buses.
The city of Griffin imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday.
Nationwide, there were more than 40 separate tornado reports from the National Weather Service on Thursday, and Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee,
In Kentucky, the National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed that an EF-1 tornado struck Mercer County and said crews were surveying damage in a handful of other counties.
There were reports of downed trees, power outages and other scattered damage from storms that moved through the state.