Blaring tornado sirens and howling winds roared across parts of western Georgia early Friday as severe storms hit southern states, including Alabama, where at least five people were killed in tornadoes that ruined homes, splintered trees and collapsed businesses.
Nearly two dozen tornadoes struck the southeastern US late Thursday through early Friday morning, including 17 in Alabama alone. More severe weather is forecast for the region and into Tennessee over the weekend.
The multiple tornadoes emerged from a so-called “supercell” of storms that then moved to Georgia, said John De Block, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham.
A large and dangerous tornado ripped through Coweta County in the Atlanta area of Georgia shortly after midnight Friday, triggering a tornado emergency in the city of Newnan and surrounding communities. There were several reports of downed trees and power lines.
Newnan police asked residents to “get off the roads” in a Facebook post, explaining that emergency officials were inspecting the area.
Newnan Utilities said the storm took its phone and Internet services out of service. Hours later, general manager Dennis McEntire said the phone lines were back. He urged residents to follow the utility on social media for updates.
McEntire said the damage caused by the storm was severe and that “it will take several days, with the help of outside teams, to reassemble the system.”
Keith Brady, Mayor of Newnan, said no deaths were immediately reported.
Many had to be rescued when the winds tore off the roofs of the houses and caused the collapse of many houses.
Mary Rose and Larry DeArman were trapped in the rubble and taken to the hospital after they struggled to get out of their crushed home.
“When that happened it was like a roar, there was no train … it was a roar,” he said, adding that “the house started shaking and then everything collapsed on us.”
The couple returned later and neighbors helped salvage some items from the house, with Mary Rose saying she was only concerned with “necessities.”
Then they found her bag. “That’s it, that’s the bag,” she told ABC’s Good Morning America as she was handed a small blue bag as she stood under an umbrella, wearing a mask, shaken but safe.
The strong storm followed a series of tornadoes that hit Alabama on Thursday, including one that authorities said traveled about 100 miles through the state.
In eastern Alabama, Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said five people were killed in a tornado that crossed a diagonal road through the county, hitting mostly rural areas, something that likely kept the death toll from being higher. .
“Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to the families, and we will do everything we can to let them know that we love them,” Wade said in an evening briefing.
Several school districts were closed or delayed on Friday due to the damage.
Vast areas of Shelby County near Birmingham suffered severe damage.
Meanwhile, well-known television meteorologist James Spann in Birmingham learned over the air that the tornado was heading straight for his home and family.
He left the screen briefly, then came back live in 15 minutes to report: “We had major damage to my home. I had to be sure, my wife is fine, but the tornado went through there and it’s not good. It is bad. It is bad.”
In the town of Pelham, James Dunaway said he initially ignored the tornado warning when it reached his phone. But then he heard the tornado approaching, left the upstairs bedroom where he had been watching television and entered a hallway, just before the storm blew through the roof and sides of his house. His bedroom was completely exposed.
“I’m very lucky to be alive,” Dunaway, 75, told Al.com.
Earlier, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey issued an emergency declaration for 46 counties and officials opened shelters in and around Birmingham.