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Rare winter tornadoes rake Alabama; at least 2 killed, 100 injured

January 23, 2012 | 11:01 am

Storm damage in Trussville, Ala.

A line of rare winter tornadoes roared through Alabama early Monday morning, ripping apart homes and businesses and prompting the state’s governor to declare a state of emergency. Two people were reported killed.

The tornadoes combined with powerful thunderstorms and straight-line winds to topple trees and power lines, injuring at least 100 people. Windows were blown out of homes and cars as people were roused from sleep in the early morning hours.

Some tornadoes struck near neighborhoods ravaged by twisters that killed 240 people last spring, said Jennifer Ardis, press secretary for Gov. Robert Bentley. She said authorities were trying to confirm reports of a total of four people killed in the storms.

"We have reports of damage from at least seven counties," Ardis said.

Officials postponed a meeting previously scheduled for Monday to discuss the state’s response to last spring’s tornadoes.

Emergency workers were searching for victims and clearing trees and debris that blocked some people from leaving their homes. A 16-year-old girl was killed in the town of Clay and an 82-year-old man died in Oak Grove in north-central Alabama, according to local officials.

The worst damage was in Jefferson County, where Birmingham was devastated by last spring’s tornadoes, and in Chilton County in the center of the state.

Tornadoes were also reported in Arkansas, with hail and high winds whipping through Tennessee, Mississippi and Illinois.

The Alabama tornadoes were spawned by a collision between warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico and a large cold front that dipped into the South from the Great Plains, said Mark Rose, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Birmingham.

"It’s very rare to see tornadoes here in January -- it’s just highly unusual," Rose said.

The tornadoes began in Mississippi and tore through Alabama between 2:30 and 8 a.m., Rose said. Three weather service survey teams were in affected areas Monday to determine the number and strength of the tornadoes, he said.

Bentley declared a state of emergency in all 67 Alabama counties. "The severe weather outbreak of last year is still fresh on our minds and is a reminder that we must take the threat of severe weather seriously," the governor said.

In Clay, northeast of Birmingham, Stevie Sanders hid with family members in the laundry room of their brick home as the storm hit and trees began snapping outside.

You could feel the walls shaking and you could hear a loud crash," Sanders told the Associated Press. "After that it got quiet, and the tree had fallen through my sister’s roof."

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-- David Zucchino in Durham, N.C.

Photo: Residents walk through the debris of their neighborhood after a possible tornado ripped through the Trussville, Ala., area in the early hours Monday. Credit: Butch Dill / Associated Press

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