A 5-year-old is among the at least seven people dead after a savage tornado ripped roofs off homes and uprooted trees as a giant storm system billowed across the south.
The child, who has yet to be identified, was killed when a pine tree fell on a car at the north end of Butts County near Jackson Lake, an official for the county said. An adult in the car with the child has been taken to a local hospital.
The death is one of at least seven who have already been killed by a storm system that has left over 40,000 people still without power in Georgia and Alabama.
More than 40 preliminary tornado reports were made across Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky as of Thursday night.
A 5-year-old is among the at least seven people dead after a savage tornado ripped roofs off homes and uprooted trees as a giant storm system billowed across the south
Authorities said a clearer picture of the extent of the damage and a search for additional victims would come on Friday, when conditions were expected to clear.
In Autauga County, Alabama, 41 miles northeast of Selma, at least six fatalities were confirmed and an estimated 40 homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado that cut a 20-mile path across two rural communities, said Ernie Baggett, the county’s emergency management director.
Several mobile homes were launched into the air and at least 12 people were injured severely enough to be taken to hospitals by emergency responders, Baggett told The Associated Press. He said crews were focused Thursday night on cutting through downed trees to look for people who may need help.
‘It really did a good bit of damage. This is the worst that I’ve seen here in this county,’ Baggett said.
In the same county southeast of Atlanta, the storm appeared to have knocked a freight train off its tracks, officials said.
Officials in Griffin, south of Atlanta, told local news outlets that multiple people had been trapped inside an apartment complex after trees fell on it.
Firefighters also cut a Griffin man loose who had been pinned for hours under a tree that fell on his house. A high school was damaged, and students were held at four middle schools for parents to pick up after officials determined it was unsafe to run buses.
The city of Griffin imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday.
Workers assess tornado damage to the 18 Wheeler Truck Parts & Chrome warehouse following a tornado outbreak across multiple states in Austell, Georgia
Damage from businesses hit by a tornado that went through downtown Selma is scattered on the ground
Workers remove debris from railroad tracks after a tornado passed through downtown Selma
Cordel Tyus and Devo McGraw sit on roofing that blew off of an industrial building and wrapped around their house after a tornado ripped through Selma
A vehicle is upended and debris is strewn about follow a tornado near Meadowview elementary school Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2023 in Selma
Debris litters a local business that was destroyed by a tornado that passed through downtown Selma
All that remains of a house on County Road 43 is the foundation in aftermath from severe weather
An SUV is overturned close to Selma, Alabama, in the aftermath of a tornado
Devastation is seen in the aftermath from severe weather, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in Greensboro, Ala
An aerial view shows damage after a tornado ripped through Selma, Alabama, U.S. January 12, 2023 in this picture obtained from social media
The storm is pictured sweeping through Alabama
School systems in at least six Georgia counties on the southern fringes of metro Atlanta canceled classes on Friday. Those systems enroll a total of 90,000 students.
Nationwide, there were 33 separate tornado reports Thursday from the National Weather Service as of Thursday evening, with a handful of tornado warnings still in effect in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
However, the reports were not yet confirmed and some of them could later be classified as wind damage after assessments are done in coming days.
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. It wasn’t immediately known whether the storm caused the blaze.
Selma Mayor James Perkins 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.’
The roof of a local businesses is strewn about after a tornado passed through Selma, Ala., Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023
Scott Wayman, center, examines his former rental home at 1349 County Road 43 in the aftermath from severe weather, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in Prattville, Ala
National Weather Service social media accounts were warning Alabama residents to take shelter immediately amid the ‘life threatening situation’
With widespread power outages, the Selma City Council held a meeting on the sidewalk, using lights from cellphones, to declare a state of emergency. A high school was opened as a shelter, officials said.
Mattie Moore was among Selma residents who picked up boxed meals offered by a charity downtown.
‘Thank God that we’re here. It’s like something you see on TV,’ Moore said of all the destruction.
After the tornado passed, Krishun Moore emerged from her home to the sound of children crying and screaming. She and her mother encouraged the kids to keep screaming until they found the two of them on top of the roof of a damaged apartment.
She estimated the kids were about 1 and 4 years old. Both of them are OK, she said through Facebook messenger.
Malesha McVay drove parallel to the tornado with her family. She said it got less than a mile from her home before suddenly turning.
‘We stopped and we prayed. We followed it and prayed,’ she said. ‘It was a 100 per cent God thing that it turned right before it hit my house.’
A crane is seen moving debris in the aftermath of the inclement weather
Mayor James Perkins Jr said the city of Selma in Alabama had sustained ‘significant damage’ from the tornado
Forecasters said a large and destructive tornado was located near Vida Junction, or 12 miles northwest of Prattville, moving to the northeast at 55 mph and 140mph at the eye of the tornado at around 12pm local time yesterday
She took video of the giant twister, which would turn black as it swept away home after home.
‘It would hit a house, and black smoke would swirl up,’ she said. ‘It was very terrifying.’
About 40,000 customers were without power in Alabama on Thursday night, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide. In Georgia, about 86,000 customers were without electricity after the storm system carved a path across a tier of counties just south of Atlanta.
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, 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.
Three factors – a natural La Nina weather cycle, warming of the Gulf of Mexico likely related to climate change and a decades-long shift of tornadoes from the west to east – came together to make Thursday’s tornado outbreak unusual and damaging, said Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University who studies tornado trends.
The La Nina, a cooling of parts of the Pacific that changes weather worldwide, was a factor in making a wavy jet stream that brought a cold front through, Gensini said. But that’s not enough for a tornado outbreak. What’s needed is moisture.
Normally the air in the Southeast is fairly dry this time of year but the dew point was twice what is normal, likely because of unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which is likely influenced by climate change.
That moisture hit the cold front and everything was in place, Gensini said.
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.