SELMA, Alabama: A giant, swirling storm system rolling into the south killed at least six people in central Alabama and another in Georgia and knocked out power to tens of thousands on Thursday , while a tornado spawned by the system shredded house walls, toppled roofs and uprooted trees in Selma.
In Autauga County, Alabama, 66 miles northeast of Selma, at least six deaths have been confirmed and an estimated 40 to 50 homes have been damaged or destroyed by storms that cut a swath through the county said Ernie Baggett, the county’s director of emergency management.
At least 12 people were injured badly enough to be taken to hospitals by emergency responders, Baggett told The Associated Press, adding that he did not know the extent of their injuries. He said crews were concentrating Thursday night on cutting down downed trees to search for people who might need help.
“There are homes that have been completely destroyed and have yet to be excavated,” Autauga County Coroner Buster Barber said Thursday evening, adding that crews “are still digging through the rubble. “.
In Georgia, a passenger died when a tree fell on a vehicle in Jackson during the storm, Butts County Coroner Lacey Prue said. In the same county southeast of Atlanta, the storm appears to have derailed a freight train, officials said.
Nationwide as of Thursday night, there were 33 separate National Weather Service tornado reports, with a handful of tornado warnings still in effect in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. However, the reports have yet to be confirmed and some of them may later be classified as wind damage after assessments made in the coming days.
In Selma, a town steeped in the history of the civil rights movement, brick buildings crumbled, cars lay flat and sign posts littered downtown. Plumes of thick, black smoke rose above the city from a burning fire. It was not immediately known whether the storm had caused the fire.
A few blocks from the city’s famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, an enduring symbol of the suffrage movement, buildings were collapsed by the storm and trees blocked roads.
Selma Mayor James Perkins said no fatalities were reported, but first responders were continuing to assess the damage.
“We have a lot of downed power lines,” he said. “There is a lot of danger in the streets.”
A city of about 18,000 people, Selma is about 80 kilometers west of Alabama’s capital, Montgomery. It was a flashpoint in the civil rights movement and where Alabama state troopers violently attacked black people advocating for the vote as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965.
After the tornado passed, Krishun Moore walked out of her home to the sound of children crying and screaming. She and her mother encouraged the children to keep screaming until they found them both on the roof of a damaged apartment. She estimated the children to be around 1 and 4 years old. Both are doing well, she said via Facebook Messenger.
Malesha McVay drove alongside the tornado with her family. She said he drove less than a mile (less than 2 kilometers) from her home before suddenly turning.
“We stopped and prayed. We followed him and prayed,” she said. “It was a 100% God thing that he shot right before he hit my house.”
She took video of the giant tornado, which turned black as it swept away house after house.
“It would hit a house and black smoke would swirl around,” she said. “It was very terrifying.”
Former State Senator. Hank Sander said the twister “hit our house, but not head-on.”
“It blew out the bedroom and living room windows,” he said. “It’s raining through the kitchen roof.”
About 40,000 customers were without power in Alabama Thursday night, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide. In Georgia, about 86,000 customers were without power after the storm system carved a path through a county level just south of Atlanta.
The storm hit Griffin, south of Atlanta, with winds damaging a commercial area, local media reported. A Hobby Lobby store partially lost its roof and at least one car was overturned in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart.
Damage was also reported west of downtown Atlanta in Douglas and Cobb counties, with the Cobb County government releasing a damage report showing a collapsed cinder block wall at a suburban warehouse. of Austell.
In Kentucky, the National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed an EF-1 tornado hit Mercer County and said crews were monitoring damage in a handful of other counties.
Three factors — one natural La Nina Weather Cyclewarming of the Gulf of Mexico likely linked to climate change and a decades-long shift of tornadoes from west to east – combined to make Thursday’s tornado outbreak unusual and damaging, said Victor Gensini, professor of meteorology at Northern Illinois University which studies tornado trends.
La Nina, a cooling of parts of the Pacific that alters weather around the world, was a factor in creating a wavy jet stream that caused a cold front, Gensini said. But that’s not enough for a tornado outbreak. What is needed is moisture.
Normally the air in the southeast is quite dry at this time of year, but the dew point was double normal, likely due to unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which is probably influenced by climate change. That moisture hit the cold front and everything was in place, Gensini said.

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