A major storm system hit several Southeast states this week, bringing high winds and tornadoes to multiple regions and killing at least one person in Mississippi. Injuries and damage were also reported in Florida from an apparent tornado.
The National Weather Service has confirmed that at least seven tornadoes hit Mississippi Tuesday. Gov. Phil Bryant issued a state of emergency for all areas of the state that may be affected by severe weather in Mississippi.
The strongest twister, rated EF-2, killed 73-year-old Dale Purvis when it struck a mobile home in southern Lamar County. National Weather Service meteorologist Brad Bryant says the storm had a 5.5 mile path with top estimated winds of 115 mph. A second Lamar County tornado spawned by the same thunderstorm was rated EF-1, with a 1.4-mile path up to 75 yards wide and top winds of 90 mph.
Small tornadoes that didn’t cause any injuries were also detected west of Bogue Chitto in Lincoln County, northwest of New Hebron in Simpson County, southwest of Poplarville in Pearl River County, in Yazoo County near Benton and near Avera in Greene County.
On Wednesday, the storm system moved through Alabama, knocking trees on to dozens of homes and toppling power poles, leaving thousands without electricity. National Weather Service teams were assessing the damage in southeast Alabama to determine whether a tornado was responsible, and they said weak twisters hit two northwest Alabama counties.
Debris littered dozens of roads and officials said about 100 homes were damaged in Dothan, Alabama, where school was canceled to allow for cleanup and power restoration. Roofs were ripped off homes around Rehobeth and Headland, also located in southeast Alabama, officials said.
Alabama Power Co. said as many as 14,000 customers were without power at the height of the storm, with the largest number – about 5,000 – around Birmingham.
Forecasters issued flash flood warnings throughout the state. Rainfall totals above 1 inch were common, and much of northeast Alabama received more than 2 inches of rain.
Several buildings in downtown Dothan had minor damage from flooding and as many as 40 roads were blocked by trees and power lines, officials said. Isolated spots reported as much as 6 inches of rain.
Henry County Sheriff William Maddox told the Dothan Eagle that the situation could have been much worse.
“The main thing was nobody was injured and there were not houses completely destroyed,” he said. “We kind of dodged a bullet.”
Damage also was reported in northwestern Alabama near Hackleburg and in west Alabama in Pickens County, where a weather service assessment determined two weak tornadoes struck.
Ronald Driver said the Pickens County storm blew the roof off his shed while he was inside it.
“All at once I just hear a heck of a roar and when I looked, it was a funnel cloud,” he told WBRC-TV. “And it just hit down on us all at once … and I didn’t even have time, none of us, to get to the storm pit.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said an apparent tornado in the Pensacola area on Wednesday significantly damaged more than 70 homes and 24 apartments, leaving three people with minor injuries.
Apartment resident Milan Smith told the Pensacola News Journal that he heard the storm approaching and ran to the bathroom. He says the door was heaving and he could hear tree limbs beating on it.
“The upstairs walls were ripped off and you could see right into the kitchen,” he said.
The storms dumped several inches of rain on Georgia, where forecasters had issued a flash flood watch ahead of the storm.
By 7 a.m. Wednesday, Albany, Georgia, had recorded 3.58 inches of rain in a 24-hour period. In Atlanta, the two-day total was approaching 3 inches before dawn Wednesday.
Georgia Power’s online outage maps showed that more than 18,000 customers were without power as the storms continued to move across the state.
The storms also left thousands without power as they moved through the Carolina’s Wednesday into Thursday.
Duke Energy reported that nearly 47,000 in both states customers were without service Thursday morning.
Associated Press writers Kevin McGill, Melissa Nelson, Freida Frisaro, and Jeff Martin contributed to this report.