Severe weather swept across the South Tuesday, spawning at least five reported tornadoes that killed at least four people, injured at least 50 others and destroyed homes.
Mississippi was particularly hard hit. All four reported deaths took place in the state – two in Marion County and two in Jones County.
“If Tuesday’s storm deaths prove to all have been caused by tornadoes, it will become the deadliest December tornado event in Mississippi since 38 died in the Vicksburg tornado of Dec. 5, 1953,” said Nick Wiltgen, weather.com senior meteorologist.
In all, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center relayed a total of 69 storm reports across the Deep South on Tuesday. Most of those were wind damage reports, but there were 14 tornado reports as well. Keep in mind that those are just reports, not confirmed tornadoes, and the final tornado count is likely to be fewer than 14.
Gov. Phil Bryant issued a state of emergency Tuesday for Marion and Jones counties, along with other parts of the state affected by severe weather.
At around 2:30 p.m. local time, strong circulation with a debris signature was spotted on radar moving toward the town of Columbia, in Marion County.
The reported tornado damaged businesses, flipped cars and toppled power lines onto U.S. 98, closing the road for several hours. Two people were killed, one in a trailer park, the other in a strip mall, the Associated Press reports.
Another two people were dead in the aftermath of severe weather in Jones County, according to Jones County Emergency Management Agency.
Jones County Sheriff Alex Hodge said the two were killed when a mobile home was destroyed, WAFB-TV said.
The storm will lead to an extensive cleanup effort on Christmas Eve in Columbia, a town of about 6,400. Businesses, like Te Davi Florist on U.S. 98, saw their buildings damaged and merchandise blown away by the reported tornado.
“We were here, and when the sirens went off the second time, my mom said we needed to leave because she had a bad feeling, and we left,” said Melissa McKenzie, owner of the flower shop, in a Hattiesburg American report. “I had my son with me about 10 minutes after we left. To have this happen – this (store) was a dream of mine.”
Damage was reported at the Marion General Hospital and power was knocked out, hampering the hospital’s ability to treat patients. Eight people were transferred to a hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as a result. All told, 50 people were treated at the hospital in the wake of the reported tornado, according to Marion General spokeswoman Millie Swann.
Marion County Emergency Management Agency Director Aaron Greer reported people were still trapped in their homes near U.S. 98 and Mississippi 13 Tuesday night, Hattiesburg American said.
Mississippi Power reported that nearly all customers were without power in Columbia Wednesday morning.
A survey team from the National Weather Service in Jackson will travel to Marion and Jones counties Wednesday to view the damage and determine whether or not it was a tornado touchdown that caused the destruction.
A tornado touched down twice in Amite City, Louisiana, knocking down trees and power lines near the intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 1054, the NWS said.
Numerous trees were uprooted and a house was damaged when its roof was ripped off by the same tornado, WDSU-TV reported.
Tangipahoa Parish’s emergency management director estimated 15-20 homes and mobile homes sustained damage, according to the NWS. No injuries were reported.
Authorities say thunderstorms have left trees and power lines down across Alabama and flooded several roads.
In western Alabama, the Lamar County emergency manager reported to the NWS that 25 roads across the county were flooded late Tuesday night. Authorities said at least 10 roads were impassable in Lamar County, about 90 miles northwest of Birmingham.
Most of Georgia is under a flood watch as thunderstorms roll across the state.
More than 50 counties in southern Georgia early Wednesday morning are under a tornado watch as thunderstorms continue in many parts of the state.
In metro Atlanta, the NWS issued a flood warning for areas along Big Creek near Alpharetta, where minor flooding is expected.
In northwest Georgia, emergency managers are reporting trees and power lines down in Whitfield and Murray counties.
Tallahassee declared a flash flood emergency Tuesday night as heavy, persistent rainfall caused major travel problems. Several roads were flooded and impassable, according to the NWS. At the intersection of Ocala Road and West Tennessee Street, cars were stuck and immobile after the road flooded, Florida Highway Patrol reported.
The Leon County Sheriff’s Office told The Weather Channel that several water rescues were conducted across the county. Many of those rescued were commuters who drove into flooded roadways.
Tallahassee had its rainiest day on record for the month of December after receiving more than 7 inches of precipitation Tuesday.
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