BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A wave of severe storms laced with
tornadoes strafed the South on Wednesday, killing at least 39
people in four states and splintering buildings across swaths of an
Alabama university town.
In Alabama alone, at least 25 people died Wednesday. There were
11 deaths in Mississippi, including a father killed as he tried to
shelter his daughter from the storm at a campsite.
Tuscaloosa's mayor said sections of the city that's home to the
University of Alabama had been destroyed by a massive tornado,
while a hospital there said its emergency room had admitted at
least 100 people. News footage showed paramedics lifting a child
out of a flattened home, with many neighboring buildings in the
city of more than 83,000 also reduced to rubble.
"The city experienced widespread damage from a tornado that cut
a path of destruction deep into the heart of the city," Mayor
Walter Maddox said in a statement.
The storm system spread destruction Tuesday night and Wednesday
from Texas to Georgia. The system was forecast to hit the Carolinas
next and then move further northeast.
"Today is the day you want to be careful," said Greg Carbin of
the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma.
A state of emergency was declared in Alabama, where Emergency
Management Agency spokesman Yasamie August said the death toll had
reached 25 for the day.
Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled Wednesday night by downed
trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in
medians. University officials said there didn't appear to be
significant damage on campus, and it was opening its student
recreation center as a shelter.
Brian Sanders, the manager of an oil change shop, brought his
daughters to DCH Regional Medical Center because he felt they'd be
safe there. He said his business had been leveled.
"I can't believe we walked away," he said.
Storms had struck Birmingham earlier in the day, felling
numerous trees that impeded emergency responders and those trying
to leave hard-hit areas.
Austin Ransdell and a friend had to hike out of their
neighborhood south of Birmingham after the house where he was
living was crushed by four trees. No one was hurt.
As he walked away from the wreckage, trees and power lines
crisscrossed residential streets, and police cars and utility
trucks blocked a main highway.
"The house was destroyed. We couldn't stay in it. Water pipes
broke; it was flooding the basement," he said. "We had people
coming in telling us another storm was coming in about four or five
hours, so we just packed up."
Not far away, Craig Branch was stunned by the damage.
"Every street to get into our general subdivision was blocked
off. Power lines are down; trees are all over the road. I've never
seen anything like that before," he said
In Huntsville, Meteorologists found themselves in the path of
tornado and had to evacuate the National Weather Service office.
In Choctaw County, Miss., a Louisiana police officer was killed
Wednesday morning when a towering sweetgum tree fell onto his tent
as he shielded his young daughter with his body, said Kim Korthuis,
a supervisor with the National Park Service. The girl wasn't hurt.
The 9-year-old girl was brought to a motorhome about 100 feet
away where campsite volunteer Greg Maier was staying with his wife,
Maier said. He went back to check on the father and found him dead.
"She wasn't hurt, just scared and soaking wet," Maier said.
Her father, Lt. Wade Sharp, had been with the Covington Police
Department for 19 years.
"He was a hell of an investigator," said Capt. Jack West, his
colleague in Louisiana.
Also in Mississippi, a man was crushed in his mobile home when a
tree fell during the storm, a truck driver died after hitting a
downed tree on a state highway and a member of a county road crew
was killed when he was struck by a tree they were removing.
By late Wednesday, the death toll had increased to 11 for the
day, said Mississippi Emergency Management Association spokesman
Jeff Rent. The governor also made an emergency declaration for much
of the state.
Storms also killed two people in Georgia and one in Tennessee on
Wednesday. Aside from the 39 deaths on Wednesday, one person was
killed by the same storm system late the previous night in
In eastern Tennessee, a woman was killed by falling trees in her
trailer in Chattanooga. Just outside the city in Tiftonia, what
appeared to be a tornado also struck at the base of the tourist
peak Lookout Mountain.
Tops were snapped off trees and insulation and metal roof panels
littered the ground. Police officers walked down the street,
spray-painting symbols on houses they had checked for people who
might be inside.
Mary Ann Bowman, 42, stood watching from her driveway as huge
tractors moved downed trees in the street. She had rushed home from
work to find windows shattered at her house, and her grandmother's
house next door shredded. The 91-year-old woman wasn't home at the
"When I pulled up I just started crying," Bowman said.
Many around the region were happy to survive unscathed even if
their houses didn't. In Choctaw County, Miss., 31-year-old Melanie
Cade patched holes in her roof after it was heavily damaged
Cade was in bed with her three children when the storm hit.
"The room lit up, even though the power was out. Stuff was
blowing into the house, like leaves and bark. Rain was coming in
sideways," she said, adding that they managed to scurry into a
"I didn't care what happened to the house," Cade said. "I was
just glad we got out of there."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)