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South cleaning up after deadly storms

At least two people were killed in Alabama Wednesday morning when a likely tornado felled a massive tree on their home.

MOBILE, Ala. (CN) — A 39-year-old woman was killed alongside her 8-year-old son in Montgomery early Wednesday morning as strong thunderstorms moved across the Deep South, spawning tornadoes that damaged property and caused injuries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The two deaths were recorded in north Montgomery just after a possible tornado touched down at approximately 3 a.m., the National Weather Service said. A third person from the scene was transported to the hospital, according to officials who spoke at a news conference Wednesday. 

Isaiah Sankey, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, said the victims were killed when a “massive tree” fell on their home in the unincorporated Flatwood community. Tornado sirens were heard in the area “for a minute or two” before the likely tornado struck, Sankey said, although it “was probably not enough time to really do anything.” 

However, as the cold front spawning the tornadoes moved eastward overnight, nearly the entire state was under a severe thunderstorm warning or subject to tornado watches, meaning conditions for tornadoes were possible. 

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham said search and rescue operations were ongoing but expected to be complete sometime Wednesday morning. He urged people not affected by the storm to stay away from the damaged areas. 

“We’ll keep [searching] until everyone is accounted for,” Cunningham said, not disclosing whether anyone was reported missing. 

Elsewhere around the state, power lines were down, trees were felled and roads were blocked. Alabama Power reported more than 15,000 customers were without electrical service, mostly in the greater Birmingham area. In Washington County in the southwest corner of the state, a tornado caused significant damage to Fruitdale High School, although no one was on campus at the time. Property damage was also reported in Hale, Greene and Elmore counties.  

The storm system first showed its volatility in Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, where injuries, livestock deaths and property damage was experienced during a brief tornado late Tuesday afternoon. From there, it marched into Mississippi, where possible tornadoes damaged property in Lowndes County, including homes and a church. A tornado in Hamilton, Mississippi, leveled a fire station.

All told, the system spawned approximately 30 tornado reports, as the National Weather Service issued 21 severe thunderstorm or tornado warnings, according to Gary Goggins, a meteorologist in the agency's Birmingham office. 

“We’ve had numerous reports of trees down across the area, power lines down and we’re actively surveying areas where we have seen some tornado damage,” Goggins said, noting a more detailed analysis of the storm will likely be released by the NWS on Wednesday afternoon.

He added, “This is one of our active weather seasons. With the changing of the seasons, you get more weather systems coming in farther south and interacting with the moisture instability and wind shear from the Gulf of Mexico. When that happens, you get more severe weather and yesterday was one of those days.”

By noon Wednesday, the storm was pushing off the East Coast, causing rain showers from Quebec to Florida. But the Deep South was in the clear again. 

“It’s sunny today with cooler, drier air moving in and we can expect that to continue for the next few days,” Goggins said. 

Sankey pledged the north Montgomery community would build back better. 

“I will not sign off on rebuilding anything unless it includes storm shelters for the community," the county commissioner said.

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