A six-year-old girl among several people killed by high winds and midday tornadoes

A six-year-old girl among several people killed by high winds and midday tornadoes

A six-year-old girl among several people killed by high winds and midday tornadoes

Larry Fondren sorts through the rubble of his tornado-damaged mobile home in Alabama
Larry Fondren sorts through the rubble of his mobile home, which was destroyed when a tree fell on it as a tornado severely damaged homes and caravans near Akron, Hale County, Alabama, January 12, 2023.

Gary Cosby Jr. / USA Today Network via Reuters

A powerful storm system that produces high winds and tornadoes cut a path through midday Thursday, killing at least seven people in Georgia and Alabama, where a tornado damaged buildings and tossed cars on the streets of historic downtown Selma.

A six-year-old boy is among the dead, authorities said.

Authorities said a clearer picture of the extent of the damage and the search for additional victims would come on Friday, when conditions were expected to improve. After the storm began to weaken on Thursday night, tens of thousands of customers were without power in both states.

In Jackson, Georgia, a child was killed when a tree fell on the car being driven by the child’s mother, the Butts County Sheriff’s Office reported to CBS News. CBS Atlanta affiliate WANF-TV reports that the baby was a girl. The station says the mother was first listed in critical condition, but has since been released, and the sheriff’s office confirmed to CBS News that the mother is fine.

Severe weather tornado
A damaged vehicle lies on its side in front of a home on January 12, 2023 in Selma, Alabama. A large tornado damaged homes and uprooted trees in the state as a powerful storm system swept through the south.

Fennel Butch/AP

Officials said that in the same county, southeast of Atlanta, a storm knocked a freight train off its tracks.

In Selma, a city with civil rights history, the city council used cell phone lights during a meeting on the sidewalk to declare a state of emergency.

At least six deaths were reported in Autauga County, Alabama, 41 miles northeast of Selma, said Ernie Baggett, director of public affairs, said he had cut a 20-mile path through the rural communities of Old Kingston and Marbury.

At least 12 people were injured seriously enough for emergency services to take them to hospitals, Baggett told The Associated Press. He said crews focused on Thursday night cutting down fallen trees looking for people who might need help.

“It’s the worst thing I’ve seen here in this county,” Baggett said of the damage.

An American flag lies in the bushes outside the storm-damaged Selma Country Club
An American flag lies in the bushes outside the storm-damaged Selma Country Club after a tornado passed through Selma, Alabama, January 12, 2023.

Mickey Welsh/USA Today Network via Reuters

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency in six counties: Autauga, Chambers, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore and Tallapoosa, where Selma is located.

“I am saddened to learn that six Alabama residents have died as a result of the storms that devastated our state,” said Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. tweeted Thursday night. “My prayers are with their loved ones and communities.”

Officials in Griffin, south of Atlanta, told local news outlets that many people were trapped in an apartment complex after trees fell on it. The Hobby Lobby store in the city partially lost its roof, while elsewhere firefighters freed a man who had been pinned for hours under a tree that had fallen on his home. The city imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday.

There were 35 separate tornado reports from the National Weather Service nationwide on Thursday, with Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina seeing tornado warnings for some time. Tornado reports have not been confirmed and some may be classified as wind damage after assessments are made in the coming days.

The tornado that hit Selma cut a wide path through the city center, where brick buildings collapsed, oak trees were uprooted, cars lay on the roadside and power lines sagged. Plumes of thick, black smoke rose from the fire over the city. It was not immediately clear whether the storm caused the fire.

A few blocks past the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, an enduring symbol of the suffrage movement, the storm collapsed buildings and blocked roads with trees.

Selma Mayor James Perkins said no fatalities had been reported but several people were seriously injured. Rescuers continued to assess the damage, and officials hoped to get an aerial view of the city on Friday morning.

Severe weather tornado
Downed trees following inclement weather on January 12, 2023 in Selma, Alabama.

Fennel Butch/AP

“We have a lot of downed power lines,” he said. “There are many dangers in the streets.”

Mattie Moore was one of the Selma residents who picked up boxed meals offered by a charity in the city center.

‚ÄúThank God we’re here. It’s like something you see on TV,” Moore said of all the destruction.

Malesha McVay recorded a video of a giant tornado turning black as it moved house by house.

“It would hit the house and black smoke would go up,” she said. “It was very scary.”

A town of approximately 18,000, Selma is located approximately 50 miles west of Montgomery, Alabama’s capital.

This was the flashpoint of the civil rights movement and where Alabama state troopers viciously attacked black pro-suffrage people as they marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. Among those beaten by law enforcement officers was John Lewis, whose skull was fractured. He continued a long and distinguished career as a US Congressman.

School systems in at least six Georgia counties canceled classes for Friday. These systems have a total of 90,000 students.

The Kentucky National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed that an EF-1 tornado had hit Mercer County and said crews were investigating damage in several other counties.

Three factors – the natural La Nina weather cycle, possibly related to the warming of the Gulf of Mexico climate change and a decades-long west-to-east shift in tornadoes – combined to make Thursday’s tornado outbreak unusual and damaging, said Victor Gensini, a professor of meteorology at the University of Northern Illinois who studies tornado trends.

La Nina, a cooling of parts of the Pacific that is changing weather around the world, was a factor in creating a rippling stream that brought a cold front, Gensini said. But that’s not enough for a tornado to start. Moisture is needed.

Normally, the air in the Southeast is quite dry this time of year, but the dew point was twice as high as normal, possibly due to the unusually warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which is likely affected by climate change. That moisture hit the cold front and everything was in place, Gensini said.

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