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Tornado strikes Selma as strong storm threatens the South

The deadly storm caused widespread damage in Alabama and Georgia.

(CN) — A large storm system spawned rain, damaging winds, hail and tornadoes across portions of Alabama and Georgia Thursday afternoon, killing at least six and causing dozens of injuries, cutting power to thousands of customers and putting millions of people under severe weather watches or warnings.

Early images emerging from the aftermath show damaged or destroyed commercial buildings, homes and churches near historic downtown Selma, which was left strewn with twisted metal and other debris, downed power lines and trees. A statement from Selma Mayor James Perkins said the city was “significantly damaged” by the storm, while urging citizens to stay at home as first responders began a cleanup and recovery effort.

National Weather Service meteorologist Gerald Satterwhite in the agency's Birmingham office said Selma was the first target of an unusual “long-track tornado” that continued across Dallas County and moved eastward through Elmore, Coosas and Tallapoosa counties. 

“There’s an upper level storm system moving through that is tapping into warm, unstable air from the Gulf,” Satterwhite explained. “The system also has a decent amount of cold air aloft which helped with the instability, while the wind shear was oriented in a way that helped several of these storms, once they produced tornadoes, for them to continue for a pretty long period of time. Typically we don’t see long-track tornadoes this time of year but they can still be severe.”

Videos shared on social media captured many of the vortexes. At a news conference Thursday afternoon, local officials in Selma said only “minor injuries” were reported, despite “widespread damage” to homes. They noted Dallas County is enforcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Selma. Schools in the area were unaffected, and the local high school was being turned into an emergency shelter. 

By late afternoon, Governor Kay Ivey announced there had been six deaths reported. Although details weren't provided, the Autauga County Sheriff's Office released a statement that all six people died in an unincorporated community north of Prattville. Ivey also declared a state of emergency for six counties: Autauga, Chambers, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore and Tallapoosa, also noting the Alabama Emergency Management Agency was continuing to monitor storms and assess damage.

As the storm continued eastward, tornadoes also spawned in neighboring Georgia. In metro Atlanta, a tornado caused delays at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport while damage was reported in Cobb County. Behind the line of storms, snow was expected to accumulate in some of the northern areas of the region before skies clear for the weekend. 

This story was updated to include information from the office of Governor Kay Ivey.

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