The death toll from a series of devastating tornadoes that tore through Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky on Thursday night has risen to nine, with authorities warning it could still rise.
The unseasonal storms cut their way through multiple counties, carving out 20-mile-wide paths in some cases.
At least 30 tornadoes were counted, with some reaching 165mph.
Seven people died in Alabama, and two in Georgia – one government official, assessing the damage, and another a five-year-old boy who was hit by a falling tree in a car. The adult he was with in Butts County, near Jackson Lake, suffered serious injuries and was taken to hospital.
Trees are uprooted and houses destroyed in Selma, Alabama on Friday after a tornado whipped through the town on Thursday night
Brian Kemp, the governor of Georgia, said on Friday morning that his state had endured a ‘tragic night’.
‘The storm moved all across our state unfortunately, it’s been a tragic night and morning in our state,’ he said.
‘It’s a very dangerous environment.’
The storm hit in Griffin, south of Atlanta, with winds damaging a shopping area, local news outlets reported. A Hobby Lobby store partially lost its roof, and at least one car was flipped in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart.
Damage was also reported west of downtown Atlanta in Douglas County and Cobb County, with Cobb County government posting a damage report showing a crumbled cinder block wall at a warehouse in suburban Austell.
In Kentucky, videos and photos shared on social media showed fierce winds as the tornadoes approached.
The National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed that an EF-1 tornado struck Mercer County and said crews were surveying damage in a handful of other counties.
Worst hit was Alabama, with Autauga County, between Selma and Montgomery, counting the cost on Friday.
A giant downed tree outside the Henderson House following an outbreak of tornadoes in Selma, Alabama, on Friday. During the Civil War following the Battle of Selma, the property, built in 1855, was occupied by Wilson’s Raiders and used as a hospital for Union soldiers
Debris and downed trees litter the grounds outside Sturdivant Hall in Selma, Alabama
People work to board up a roof and windows of a damaged home in Selma on Friday
Some 40 houses were destroyed in Selma by the tornadoes, which ravaged swathes of the region between Montgomery and Selma
People burn debris from their homes as they clean up in the aftermath of the tornado in Old Kingston, Pratville, Alabama
A man with a chainsaw attempts to clear the debris from a home in Selma on Friday, after the devastating storm series
National Weather Service social media accounts were warning Alabama residents to take shelter immediately amid the ‘life threatening situation’
Forty homes were destroyed, said Ernie Baggett, the Emergency Management Agency Director for Autauga County.
He said the damage was unprecedented.
‘It’s complete devastation,’ he said.
‘There’s some, a couple of our county roads that there’s only one or two homes left that may be livable.’
In Selma, a city of about 18,000 people, a tornado cut a wide path through the downtown area, where brick buildings collapsed, oak trees were uprooted, cars were on their side and power lines were left dangling.
Plumes of thick, black smoke rose over the city from a fire burning.
James Spann, a meteorologist and host of Weather Brains, shared a video of the tornado roaring towards the town, as people outside a Walmart stood and looked on in shock.
James Perkins, mayor of Selma, said no fatalities have been reported, but several people were seriously injured.
First responders were continuing to assess the damage and officials hoped to get an aerial view of the city Friday morning.
‘We have a lot of downed power lines,’ he said. ‘There is a lot of danger on the streets.’
Traffic lights and power lines lie in the roadway following an outbreak of tornadoes in Selma
A factory roof is sheared off and the debris scattered in Selma on Friday, following Thursday’s tornadoes
At a Selma tax office, Deborah Brown said she and her colleagues had to rush for shelter when they saw a tornado barreling down the street.
‘We could have been gone, y’all,’ Brown said in a Facebook video.
‘We had to run for cover. We had to go run and jump in the closet.’
An overturned car flipped by the winds is seen in Pratville, Alabama, on Friday after the storms the previous night
Locals inspect remains of residences that have been reduced to piles of rubble in Pratville
The top half of a house is seen entirely exposed in Selma, as people inspect the damage on Friday
Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, visited on Friday and said she was shocked at the scale of the devastation.
She said it ‘was far worse than anything I had envisioned.’
She added: ‘Roofs are just gone, trees look like toothpicks.’
At least 33,400 home and businesses in Alabama and Georgia remained without power on Friday afternoon.
What is a tornado?
A tornado is a narrow, rapidly spinning column of air around an intense low pressure centre that reaches the ground from cumulonimbus clouds, also known as thunderstorm clouds, according to the Met Office.
Tornadoes have a narrow width, usually up to 100 metres (328 feet) but the damage can be concentrated and severe.
As they develop, funnel shaped clouds extend from the base of the cloud and when these reach the ground, a tornado is formed.
A tornado is a narrow, rapidly spinning column of air around an intense low pressure centre that reaches the ground from cumulonimbus clouds, also known as thunderstorm clouds, according to the Met Office. Pictured, a tornado over a field
Tornadoes can have wind speeds up to 483 kilometres per hour (300 miles per hour) and when they touch the ground can destroy trees and buildings in their path, throwing heavy objects like cars though the air like a Frisbee.
Tornadoes which occur over water are referred to as a waterspout and those which do not touch ground are referred to as a funnel cloud.
The highest surface wind speed ever recorded of 486 kilometres per hour (302 miles per hour) is a result of the 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak.
The greatest distance travelled by a single tornado was 352 kilometres (219 miles) from Ellington, Missouri to Princeton, Indiana, on 18 March 1925.
The most tornadoes in a single year were recorded in 2004. There were 1,820.