OHATCHEE, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — A string of deadly tornadoes roared through Alabama and moved into Georgia early Friday, leaving at least five people dead and demolishing homes.
The severe storms, which toppled trees and knocked out power to thousands, are part of a broad swath of violent weather sweeping across the Deep South. In addition to the at least five fatalities, an unknown number of injuries were reported.
The tornado outbreak rolled into western Georgia early Friday. Meteorologists said one large, dangerous tornado moved through Newnan and surrounding communities in the Atlanta metro area.
A day earlier, a sheriff in eastern Alabama said a tornado cut a diagonal line through his county, striking mostly rural areas.
“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.
As many as eight tornadoes might have hit Alabama on Thursday, said John De Block, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham. Multiple twisters sprang from a “super cell” of storms that later moved into Georgia, he said.
Reports of tornado damage in the Newnan area began coming in shortly after midnight. Trees were toppled and power lines downed, knocking out service by the local utility.
“It’s still dark so it’s hard to assess all of the damage but we believe we have 30 broken poles,” Newnan Utilities general manager Dennis McEntire said. “We serve about 10,000 customers and about half are without electricity right now.”
Newnan police urged the public in a Facebook post to “get off the roads” while emergency officials surveyed the damage.
Newnan Mayor Keith Brady said no fatalities were immediately reported.
The bad weather stretched across the southern U.S., raising concerns of thunderstorms and flooding in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas.
In Ohio, more than 100,000 people were without power early Friday after thunderstorms delivered 50 mph wind gusts to parts of the state. Forecasters reported peak gusts of 63 mph in Marysville.
Some school districts from Alabama to Ohio canceled or delayed class on Friday due to damage and power outages.
The confirmed deaths were in Alabama’s Calhoun County, in the eastern part of the state, where one of multiple twisters sprang from a “super cell” of storms that later moved into Georgia, Block said.
Pat Lindsey, a resident of the county’s hard-hit town of Ohatchee, told The Associated Press that a neighbor of his was killed when a twister destroyed his mobile home. “He was good as gold,” Lindsey said.
Mississippi had a storm-related death on Wednesday. Ester Jarrell, 62, died when a large tree toppled over onto her mobile home after heavy rain soaked the ground, a Wilkinson County official told The Associated Press.
Farther west, vast areas of Shelby County near Birmingham were badly damaged. In the city of Pelham, James Dunaway said he initially ignored the tornado warning when it came over his phone. But it wasn’t long before he could hear the twister approaching, so he left the upstairs bedroom where he had been watching television and entered a hallway — just before the storm blew off the roof and sides of his house, completely exposing the bedroom. All three of his vehicles were undriveable.
“I’m very lucky to be alive,” the 75-year-old Vietnam War veteran told Al.com.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey shared her condolences for the victims and encouraged Alabama residents to “remain on high alert.”
Significant and dangerous weather continues to impact portions of Alabama, and I urge all folks in the path of these tornadoes and storm systems to remain on high alert. Tragically, we are receiving reports of loss of life. I offer my sincerest prayers to all impacted. Unfortunately, the day is not over yet. Y’all please stay safe and vigilant.Gov. Kay Ivey
First Lady Jill Biden and actress Jennifer Garner have canceled their planned trip to Alabama due to Thursday’s severe weather.
The trip was planned for Friday as part of the “Help is Here” tour to amplify how the American Rescue Plan addresses childhood poverty.
“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 wrote on Twitter.
The two were set to visit the Jasper Area Family Service Center in Jasper and the YWCA of Central Alabama in Birmingham.
Search and rescue efforts were complicated by strong weather that continued to rake across the region. Radar “debris signatures” showed a tornado that formed in southwest Alabama traveled roughly 100 miles (161 kilometers) and stayed on the ground for about an hour and 20 minutes, De Block said.
He said on-sight investigations would determine the strength of the storms, but based on the debris signatures, “we’re pretty confident we will find at least seven tornadoes” passed through the state on Thursday.
The National Weather Service reported a large radar confirmed tornado, with a history of producing damage, moving near northeastern Shelby County into St. Clair County and toward Pell City Thursday afternoon.
Eyewitnesses also reported a tornado near Aliceville, Alabama with Carrollton and Gordo in its path around 2 p.m. Thursday.
Helena, Alabama received major damage from the tornado, according to local police, who tweeted that power lines heading to the police station were knocked down.
Video shows a confirmed tornado on the ground in Alabama.
Some of the metropolitan areas in the path of Thursday’s storms included Memphis and Nashville in Tennessee; and Birmingham and Huntsville in Alabama.
Earlier Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued an emergency declaration for 46 counties, and officials opened shelters in and around Birmingham.
“Once again, Alabama finds herself facing the threat of severe weather,” Ivey said. “I urge all Alabamians to closely monitor the weather system as it continues to impact portions of our state, especially if you are in the line of the highest risk storms.”
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliates around the country contributed to this report.