LEARNED, Miss. (AP) — Strong storms roared across the South on Thursday, killing two Mississippi drivers and a woman in Alabama while leaving more than 100,000 people without power across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
National Weather Service forecasters said they believe multiple tornadoes hit southwest and central Mississippi, although they won’t be sure until damage is surveyed. Heavy winds also were reported in Louisiana and in central Alabama as the system quickly pushed eastward. Forecasters predicted the system would push into Georgia before sunrise.
On the back side of the system, there were reports late Thursday of high winds in southern Oklahoma.
A Mississippi man was killed Thursday afternoon when his car hit a tree on a highway south of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Neshoba County Coroner John Stephens told local news outlets. Stephens did not immediately release the man’s name.
Kenderick Magee, 24, also was killed while driving in the storm, WLBT-TV reported. Magee fatally crashed near the rural town of Gillsburg in southwest Mississippi, Amite County Coroner Campbell Sharp said.
Two minor injuries were reported in Harvey, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, when a power pole fell on two vehicles.
Alabama authorities said a woman was killed Thursday night when strong storms knocked a tree onto her mobile home in St Clair County. Emergency crews found 42-year-old Monica Clements dead inside the home. Clements’ 10-year-old son suffered minor injuries.
Damage was heavy in the Mississippi hamlet of Learned, about 20 miles southwest of Jackson. Large oaks were uprooted from saturated ground, landing on at least a dozen houses.
One belongs to the family of Jesse Qualls, a Mississippi State University student who was on his way home for Easter when the storms hit. He said his mother had gone to pick up his sister from school and returned to find a pecan tree had crashed through Qualls’ bedroom and bathroom. His dog Dukey was uninjured.
Qualls said he got a tearful call from his mother, but he struggled to make it home, using his truck to push fallen trees off roads leading into town.
“I saw the house and I started freaking out,” Qualls said, as residents and emergency workers sawed up other trees off streets in the 100-resident town. “My dad passed away a while ago and this is all I have left of him.”
Qualls, though, said his family will be fine and the storm is likely to spark a long-delayed renovation.
“We’ve got a lot of people to help,” Qualls said. He said his family would stay with relatives in nearby Clinton, where two cars were flipped in a Walmart parking lot.
To the northeast, Scott County Emergency Management Director Mike Marlow said reports indicated a number of homes were damaged near Morton and the roof blew off a gas station near Lena. In Philadelphia, Mississippi, a wall collapsed at a medical clinic and the storm knocked down traffic signals and canopies and pushed trees onto houses, the Neshoba Democrat reported.
Damage from the storm system was reported in at least 24 of Mississippi’s 82 counties.
Schools and colleges sent students home early across much of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In Jackson, state Auditor Shad White said his staff huddled in a stairway in a high-rise state office building while tornado sirens wailed, winds howled and rain poured. Spokeswoman Cathy Hayden said employees at Hinds Community College in Raymond hid in an underground bookstore storage room.
The same system produced tornadoes and hail earlier in North Texas, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas.
Seven tornadoes were reported across the Plains from the northeastern Texas Panhandle to southeastern Kansas. Strong winds hit elsewhere Wednesday evening, toppling utility poles and trees and downing power lines in parts of North Texas.
No significant structural damage was reported, but heavy rainfall caused flash flooding that prompted the shutdown of Interstate 30 in central Arkansas and the closure of several schools around Little Rock.
The National Weather Service received numerous reports of hail pelting the storm-struck areas. Egg-size hail was reported about 60 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
The threat came days after more than 40 tornadoes from East Texas to Georgia left at least nine dead. That outbreak damaged more than 250 homes, businesses and public buildings across Mississippi.