Severe storms capable of tornadoes are sweeping across the Southeast Thursday, already injuring several people in Alabama and leaving damage in several states with the potential for hours of more destruction ahead, authorities and forecasters say.
In northern Alabama’s Morgan County alone, a storm caused 10 to 15 injuries – none of which are believed to be life-threatening – and damaged numerous buildings, county sheriff’s spokesman Mike Swafford said.
Streets and fields were littered with debris and downed power lines in Decatur, a Morgan County community roughly 25 miles southwest of Huntsville, pictures from city police and the county sheriff’s department showed.
Siding was ripped off a Decatur hotel, according to pictures taken by hotel guest Mark Spychala, who said he sheltered in a laundry room as the storm hit Thursday morning.
“We lost power, and could hear the wind and rain” pummel the area outside, Spychala told CNN. The National Weather Service preliminarily attributed the Decatur damage to strong winds.
More than 35 million people in the Southeast and the Ohio Valley – from Louisiana eastward to the Carolinas and from Kentucky south to the Gulf Coast – are under some level of threat for severe storms Thursday that could include damaging wind gusts and tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center said.
By early afternoon, tornado watches covered parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, the western Florida Panhandle and far western North Carolina with various expirations.
Thursday’s greatest risk of severe storms – an “enhanced” risk, or level 3 of 5 – is predicted for about 9.5 million people over parts of Alabama and Georgia, including the Birmingham, Montgomery and Atlanta areas, the prediction center said.
Regarding timing: Severe storms are especially possible in the Birmingham and Montgomery areas by early afternoon, and the Atlanta area in the late afternoon.
Damage reports across the Southeast and the Ohio Valley were piling up Thursday morning as storms progressed.
Several preliminary tornado reports were made in the morning in Alabama, including in northwestern Alabama’s Winston County and western Alabama’s Sumter County, where building damage was reported, the weather service said.
Downed trees and power lines were reported along several of the roads of Winston County, whose communities are dozens of miles northwest of Birmingham.
“Motorists are urged to only travel roadways in emergency situations and to remain weather aware,” the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said in a series of tweets about the Winston County damage.
In northeastern Mississippi’s Monroe County, several rural buildings lay flattened or severely damaged after a storm passed through Thursday morning, video tweeted by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency shows.
No injuries were reported there, according to the agency, which said a tornado could have caused the damage. The weather service preliminarily said strong winds caused damage in the county.
Wind damage to trees and buildings also were reported in other locations across parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky before noon, the weather service said.