Storms move eastward, leaving trail of damage in Deep South


CLANTON, Ala. (NewsNation Now) — Storms that left splintered homes and broken trees across Alabama and Mississippi moved into Georgia and Florida on Thursday, rousing residents with early morning warnings as forecasters said the threat of dangerous weather would move up the south Atlantic seaboard.

The National Weather Service advised residents to take extra precautions Thursday after the South was hit with nearly two dozen tornadoes and downpours Wednesday.

In North Carolina, NewsNation affiliate station WGHP meteorologist Van Denton ordered everyone off the set during the 5 p.m. broadcast after a storm with a tornado warning moved right over the High Point station.

“It’s over us. This is not the room we need to be in,” Denton said.

No serious damage or injuries were immediately reported in North Carolina from the tornado-warned storms near High Point and Charlotte. WGHP’s drone spotted some damage in the High Point area after the storm passed, mostly to roofs and trees.

The weather service said at least two people were hurt Wednesday when an apparent tornado struck southwest Alabama, destroying a house. Pieces of homes and twisted metal laid amid broken trees in the hardest-hit areas, but no one died and the region appeared to escape the kind of horrific toll many feared after ominous predictions of monster twisters and huge hail.

“Overall, we have a lot to be grateful for, as it could have been much worse,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.

The National Weather Service office in central Alabama said teams were fanning out Thursday to assess damage in at least 12 counties where tornadoes may have touched down.

Debris litters weather-damaged properties at the intersection of County Road 24 and 37 in Clanton, Ala., the morning following a large outbreak of severe storms across the southeast, Thursday, March 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Reported tornadoes knocked down trees, toppled power lines and damaged homes in the Alabama communities of Burnsville and Moundville, where power was out and trees blocked a main highway. NewsNation affiliate WIAT reported at least 15 possible tornadoes in Central Alabama alone. Preliminary reports out Thursday from the Birmingham NWS said an EF-1 struck in Moundville and an EF-2 in Chilton County Wednesday.

The NWS reports the EF-2 in Chilton County saw max winds of 130 miles per hour and was on the ground for more than five-and-a-half miles. No fatalities or injuries were reported from that tornado, but it destroyed at least three homes, including that of resident Jimmy Baker.

“Then about a minute before it got here, we jumped … in the hall closet, a little, small closet,” Baker told WSFA-TV. “And just we heard it. You know, the sound from the house coming down. We were saved. We thank the Lord for that,” he said.

In north Alabama, where forecasters said as much as 6 inches of rain fell, a woman who rescuers found clinging to a tree after her car was swamped by floodwaters in Morgan County was treated at a hospital, but details about her condition were not immediately available. Schools closed in neighboring Madison County because of flooding.

The NWS assessment of the Moundville tornado is completed, but more information has not yet been released beyond its max wind strength of 110 mph and preliminary EF-1 rating.

In the Moundville community, which is south of Tuscaloosa, roofs were yanked off homes. A woman in nearby Tuscaloosa County told NewsNation affiliate WIAT’s Michael Clark she held onto a tree in her yard to survive as her mobile home was destroyed by a fallen tree during the tornado warning for Moundville.

“My son told me, ‘Mother you realize had you not got out of that trailer and you were sitting on that couch, you wouldn’t be here today,’” Jennifer Patterson told Clark.

The storms were expected to intensify as they move into South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday afternoon.

A line of storms stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to West Virginia, and the Storm Prediction Center said other, isolated severe storms were possible from southern Ohio into the central Appalachians.

“Significant tornadoes, wind damage and large hail will be possible from morning into afternoon,” the center said. “Severe thunderstorms will also be possible from parts of the eastern Gulf Coast into the southern and central Appalachians.”

The metro Atlanta area was pelted by heavy rain with intense lightning and strong wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph). Morehouse College tweeted that it was delaying the opening of its campus until 11 a.m. and that faculty and staff should not arrive until after that time. All classes before then were to be held virtually, it said.

In South Carolina, the severe weather threat led the state Senate president to caution senators to stay home Thursday while urging staff to work remotely for their safety. House Speaker Jay Lucas kept his promise from the day before to meet less than an hour Thursday so members could beat the severe storms home.

In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper Thursday issued a state of emergency as the severe weather with heavy rain, high winds and flooding moved into the state, bringing with it tornado watches and warnings.

Additional damage was reported Wednesday in Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, where video showed an apparent tornado at Brookhaven. High winds blew down signs and trees in northeast Texas, and hailstones the size of baseballs were reported near the Alabama-Mississippi line, the weather service said.

More than 70,000 homes and businesses were without power from Texas to Alabama, and radar showed additional storms moving across the region as initial cleanup work began.

Current watches and warnings:

For more information about tornado safety, visit the National Weather Service’s website.

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The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliates around the country contributed to this report.

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