A series of tornadoes generated by a previous “supercell” of storms hit Alabama on Thursday and subsequently made its way to Georgia early Friday, killing at least five amid the ruins of shattered homes, downed trees and seriously damaged businesses.
Authorities reported that a powerful tornado traveled about 100 miles through Alabama on Thursday, leaving a trail of destruction. The National Weather Service for Atlanta said a “dangerous and fast-moving” tornado swept through some of the southern suburbs of the metropolitan area just after midnight.
As thousands of people were left without power and faced with the task of removing debris and rebuilding, the extreme weather that swept through parts of Alabama and the region marked the scariest part of spring in the southeastern United States: the season tornadoes.
While Alabama appeared to be bearing the brunt of Thursday’s tornadoes, forecasters warned of dangerous thunderstorms, flash floods and potential hurricanes from eastern Mississippi to western Georgia, and heading north into Tennessee and Kentucky. Additionally, flash flood warnings and alerts were extended to the western Carolinas overnight.
The deaths were confirmed in Calhoun County in eastern Alabama, where one of multiple tornadoes sparked off a “supercell” of storms that then made its way to Georgia, said meteorologist John De Block of the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said the tornado cut across the county on a diagonal, hitting mostly rural areas, perhaps keeping the death toll from getting higher.
“Five people lost their lives and for those families things will never be the same again,” Wade said at a late-night news conference. “Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to these families, and we will do everything in our power to let them know that we love them.”
Pat Lindsey, a resident of the county’s worst hit Ohatchee town, told The Associated Press that a neighbor of his was killed after a tornado destroyed his mobile home.
“He was a great person,” Lindsey noted.
Further west, large parts of Shelby County near Birmingham – the largest city in the state – were severely damaged. Images taken by civilians by means of drones and published on social networks showed roofs torn from manor houses, and the winds destroying some and leaving others intact.
In the town of Pelham, James Dunaway said he initially ignored the tornado warning when it reached him by phone. But it wasn’t long before he could hear the tornado approaching, so he left the upper bedroom where he watched television and headed down a hallway just before the storm ripped away the roof and side parts of his house, totally leaving exposed the breech. His three vehicles were rendered useless.
“I am very fortunate to be alive,” Dunaway, 75, a veteran of the Vietnam War, told Al.com.
Pelham authorities released a video showing three huge trees blocking roads and power poles leaning threateningly over debris-strewn streets.
In the town of Centerville, south of Tuscaloosa, Cindy Smitherman and her family and neighbors took cover in their underground storm shelter as a tornado passed over their home.
“I’m just glad we’re alive,” he said.