A powerful winter storm raked across the Deep South on Thursday, with high winds causing damage that killed one person and injured several more across a dozen states. Rescue crews also repeatedly pulled people from flooded cars, and one person was seen disappearing into a rain-swollen creek as a car sank.
The storm front peeled off roofs across a wide area of hard-hit Mississippi. It destroyed mobile homes in Alabama, caused a mudslide in Tennessee and flooded homes in communities that shoulder waterways across the Appalachian region.
In Harlan County, Kentucky, two mobile homes floated away after their families were rescued, and dozens more were evacuated amid rising water, authorities said.
The rain kept falling over a path of splintered trees and sagging power lines that stretched from Louisiana into Virginia. School districts cancelled classes in state after state as the weather rolled through.
One person was killed and another was injured as high winds destroyed two mobile homes near the town of Demopolis, Alabama, the Storm Prediction Center reported. The winds left roadsides in that area strewn with pieces of plywood and insulation, broken trees and twisted metal. It wasn’t immediately clear whether a tornado was to blame.
Hours earlier, the weather forced rescuers to suspend their search for a vehicle that disappeared Wednesday with a person inside in north Alabama’s Buck’s Pocket State Park.
“As the car started shifting because of the water we noticed what appeared to be an arm reaching out,” witness Kirkland Follis, who called 911, told WHNT-TV. Eight agencies responded, but the vehicle quickly disappeared and the water was too dangerous for divers to search, the station reported.
Authorities in many places pleaded with motorists to avoid driving where they can’t see the pavement.
Tree limbs and fences were toppled when a possible tornado hit the Birmingham suburb of Helena, officials said, and some roads and parking lots were covered by floodwaters. Downtown streets also flooded near the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A yellow taxi was abandoned in high water early Thursday on an interstate ramp in Birmingham.
Two Kentucky counties declared states of emergency. In Bell County, where heavy rains washed out roads and led to water rescues and rock slides, Judge-Executive Albey Brock said crews rescued people from flooded streets in Middlesboro.
“Its a very bad situation that continues to worsen by the hour,” Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley said. About 20 people were sheltering in the Harlan Baptist Church after being evacuated from homes due to high water, and still the rain was pouring down.
In Georgia, a tree crashed onto to the interstate in Dunwoody, north of Atlanta, crunching a car but causing no serious injuries, authorities said. Huge trees toppled and snapped in the state’s northwestern Gordon County, smashing a home and blowing roofs off outbuildings.
Students were told to shelter in place while tornado warnings were in effect in the Atlanta suburbs and at the University of Georgia in Athens. Children in the Lawrenceville area huddled in school hallways as the weather moved through.
Tornado and flood watches covered large areas Thursday, from Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle eastward to Virginia. Many school districts cited the flooding and severe weather in canceling classes.
The airport in North Carolina’s largest city evacuated a control tower and advised people to shelter in place because of a tornado warning, which the National Weather Service said was in effect until noon on Thursday. Charlotte-Douglas International Airport said in a tweet that the Federal Aviation Administration evacuated the tower.
More than 70,000 homes and businesses were without power in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, according to poweroutage.us.
The rain was predicted to continue into Friday across much of the region.
Elsewhere, snow was falling, in places from the upper Midwest into New England, where a few inches was expected on the coast of Maine and up to 16 inches could fall in the New Hampshire mountains before sunny skies take hold over the weekend.
Earlier, the storm dumped four inches of snow along the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, and caused dozens of accidents involving tractor-trailers in Oklahoma. Snow also coated a bridge over the Missouri River, where several tractor-trailers and passenger vehicles collided Wednesday near Rocheport, injuring at least one person, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
The storms also paid a violent visit to New Orleans, collapsing scaffolding at the Four Seasons Hotel construction site onto at least a dozen cars Wednesday and sending one person to a hospital. Hail pounded downtown streets and high winds shattered the glass on two revolving doors.