ALABAMA (NewsNation Now) — Chainsaws buzzed through fallen trees, stunned residents dug in the rubble that had been their homes, and neighbors rushed in to help on Friday after multiple tornadoes ripped a path of devastation across the Deep South. At least five people were killed.
As many as 10 tornadoes — an estimated eight in Alabama and two in Georgia — carved a tremendous path of devastation on Thursday, uprooting 100-year-old trees, stripping roofs from houses, seriously damaging schools and businesses and scattering treasured family possessions far and wide.
All of the twisters were spawned by “supercell” thunderstorms, said John De Block, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
NewsNation went to Centerville, Alabama were homes had been flatten and significant damage was evident for miles.
One large, dangerous tornado moved through Newnan, destroying homes and damaging others in surrounding communities west of Atlanta, meteorologists said.
A day earlier, one tornado formed in southwest Alabama and carved up the ground for more than an hour Thursday, traveling roughly 100 miles and causing heavy damage in the city of Centreville, south of Tuscaloosa.
Farther west in Centreville, one woman said she was convinced the tornado went right over her home.
“We believe it went right over us. It was almost like we got hit, and then it got super quiet, and then we got hit again. So we do believe the center of it went directly over us,” Kerrie Carter told NewsNation.
In Ohatchee, Alabama, the National Weather Service says they were hit with an EF-2 strength tornado based on the level of damage.
De Block said it dissipated in Shelby County, where another twister had already heavily damaged homes and businesses and devastated the landscape. The county is home to suburban Birmingham cities such as Pelham and Helena and the unincorporated subdivision of Eagle Point — all suffering heavy damage.
Still another of the eight suspected tornadoes that hit the state killed five people in Calhoun County.
“Five people lost their lives and for those families, it will never be the same,” Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said at briefing Thursday evening. Coroner Pat Brown identified them Friday to Al.com as Joe Wayne Harris, 74, Barbara Harris, 69, Ebonique Harris, 28; Emily Myra Wilborn, 72, and James William Geno, 72.
One of the victims in the hard-hit town of Ohatchee in eastern Alabama, a small community of about 1,170 people, was Dwight Jennings’s neighbor. Geno went by J.W. and had been a rodeo bull rider in his youth. He could make anything out of wood and loved to catfish, Jennings said. They had planned to go fishing this weekend; instead, he spent hours searching for Geno’s dog before the animal was found alive.
Reports of tornado damage in the Newnan area began coming in shortly after midnight. 100-year-old trees were toppled and power lines downed.
Stephen Brown, fire chief in the city of Newnan said during a televised morning news conference that rescue teams were methodically checking every structure and assessing the destruction. They’ve found “heavy, heavy damage” in parts of the city’s historic district, he said.
“It’ll never look the same,” Brown said. But he also complimented the resiliency of the community. “They’re out. They’re working. Family members are coming out there and they’re already on their own doing the cleanup.”
The bad weather stretched across the southern U.S., raising concerns of thunderstorms and flooding in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas. Emergency responders hospitalized one person in Sumner County, Tennessee, and the Nashville Fire Department posted photos on Twitter showing large trees down, damaged homes and streets blocked by debris.
More than 150,000 people were without power Friday in Ohio and Pennsylvania after 50 mph wind gusts ripped across the region. Forecasters reported peak gusts of 63 mph in Marysville, Ohio. Some 23,000 customers remained without electricity in Alabama, according to poweroutage.us.
Some school districts from Alabama to Ohio canceled or delayed class Friday due to damage and power outages.
Firefighters outside a flattened home in the Eagle Point subdivision, also in Shelby County, said the family that lived there made it out alive. Nearby homes were roofless or missing their second stories.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday extended condolences to the victims. She said they’re in close communication with state and local officials, and haven’t received any requests for federal assistance yet.
First lady Jill Biden postponed a trip to Birmingham and Jasper, Alabama, that she had planned for Friday because of the severe weather, her office said.
“Thinking of everyone in Alabama and all of those impacted by the severe weather across the South tonight. My prayers are with the grieving families. Please stay safe,” Biden tweeted late Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.