Recovery and search efforts continued in the south on Friday, a day after severe storms and tornadoes swept through the region, killing at least nine people, destroying rooftops, and cutting power to thousands.
At least seven people were killed in Ouaga County, central Alabama, officials said, while two more people — including a five-year-old boy — were killed in Georgia. In those states and Kentucky, at least 37 initial reports of tornadoes were recorded in storms that damaged power lines, snapped tree limbs and sent debris into the streets.
Damage from what appeared to be two tornadoes — initially categorized as an EF-3 and an EF-2 — was found in two parts of Spalding County, in central Georgia, according to the National Weather Service. EF-2 damage was found in three other neighboring counties extending to the east, the weather service said, adding that the total number of tornadoes is still being determined.
Tornadoes are rated EF-2 packet winds with speeds of at least 111 mph while EF-3 tornadoes have winds between 136 and 165 mph.
A particularly destructive storm with at least one powerful tornado swept through both Selma — an Alabama city known for its role in the civil rights movement — and a community in Otoga County, located one county to the east, according to the National Weather Service. He said.
Searches continued Friday in Otoga County where officials are still not sure everyone who lived in the damaged homes has been accounted for, state emergency management official Ricky Adams told CNN Friday.
“Our top priority continues today again to save lives in any of those areas where search and rescue operations are taking place,” said Adams, who put the county’s death toll at seven.
Coroner Buster Barber said earlier that authorities there “found more bodies” on Friday morning. It was not immediately clear if this was reflected in the death toll.
Ouja County Emergency Management Agency Administrator Ernie Paget told CNN Friday afternoon that the search and rescue phase of the response effort will transition into the recovery phase on Saturday.
In neighboring Dallas County, a massive tornado caused widespread destruction in Selma, which is home to about 17,000 people. They had to rush to safety after seeing what looked like a tornado rolling down the street, Deborah Brown and others at a tax office in Selma said.
“We could have been gone, y’all,” Brown said in a Facebook video. “We had to run for cover. We had to run and jump in the closet.”
Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said Friday that while the damage was “enormous,” no deaths were reported.
After taking an aerial tour to search for damage, the mayor felt emotional as he spoke about the communities that were bombed — including the neighborhood he grew up in that was devastated.
“It’s hard,” he said. “A lot of people are hurting. The devastation is real. We have a lot of work to do.”
“While these affected areas caused the same storm, it is not yet known if there is a continuing path of damage,” the weather service said. The day before, a meteorologist with the Weather Service said Hurricane Selma may have been on the ground for at least 50 miles.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said while visiting Selma on Friday that the damage “was far worse than anything I could have imagined.” “The roofs are just gone, the trees look like toothpicks.”
A five-year-old boy was killed when a tree fell on top of a car, the Butts County Coroner’s Office said. Gov. Brian Kemp said on Friday that a state employee was also killed by falling debris while responding to the storm surge.
Severe storms Thursday left about 40,000 homes and businesses in the dark Friday morning across Georgia and Alabama, according to tracking website PowerOutage.us.
The storms were the latest wave of severe weather turned deadly in the United States as experts point to the human-caused climate crisis as the cause of such extreme events. Millions in California are reeling from weeks of torrential rain that has killed at least 18 people and left thousands without power.
Selma’s mayor told residents to conserve water after outages affected treatment facilities and storms gave way to cooler, albeit sunny, weather across the region.
“We have to rise and prepare,” Perkins said, as overnight low temperatures over the next few days were set to dip below freezing.
Governors in Alabama and Georgia have declared states of emergency in the affected areas to help with rescue and clean-up efforts.
On Friday, Ivey said she would reach out to President Joe Biden to encourage him to declare a state of emergency.
In addition to hurricanes and destructive storms, destructive winds swept the region from Mississippi to Virginia.
Across the southern and central United States, more than 160 reports of damaging winds have been recorded in Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. Nineteen reports of extreme cold were recorded in Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, West Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia.
In northeastern Mississippi, several buildings were flattened or severely damaged in Monroe County after a storm passed through Thursday morning, according to video released by the state’s Emergency Management Agency. The agency added that there were no reports of injuries there.
Tornado damage in Dallas County, Alabama — Selma’s home — extended throughout the county, coroner William Alan Daley said in a video conference.
She said Creshon Moore’s home in Selma was torn down when a storm sent her and her mother to take shelter in their bathroom. “All we heard was the wind and the whole house was shaking,” Moore told CNN, adding that no one was hurt.
Priscilla Lewis, who shared the photos with CNN, said the damage to downtown Selma made it nearly impossible to leave the area on Thursday. No deaths were reported in Dallas County as of Thursday, but some residents were injured.
“This is a distressed area. The power lines are down and the trees are downed — and it’s really dangerous,” said Jimmy Nunn, Dallas County Probate Judge, during a news conference.
In neighboring Ouja County, at least 20 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to Gary Weaver, deputy director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency.
The National Weather Service in Birmingham said damage survey teams will be in the field for the next several days across the region.
With storm damage closing roads in Georgia, some students were unable to leave four prep schools south of Atlanta, their school system said Thursday night.
By Friday morning, more than two dozen students had been reunited with their families, the Griffin-Spalding County School System reported in a social media post, after they had to take shelter in the school grounds because storm debris blocked roads.
Spalding County declared a state of emergency Thursday because a tornado was reported there, officials said on Facebook, urging residents to take cover. Parts of the state were under a tornado watch Thursday night.
“When you start getting on the roads, there’s no way to get where you’re going,” said TJ Emberger, Spalding County Public Works Director.
The Griffin-Spalding School District will be closed Friday as the district recovers.
In Alabama, Selma City Schools V.E Permit The storm displaced many families in the area.