South on edge: Tornadoes, several injuries in Miss

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Two large tornados splintered homes and business in Mississippi, part of a powerful storm system that threatened large areas of the South with more twisters, severe thunderstorms, damaging hail and flash floods, authorities said. Several injuries were reported along with extensive damage in the northern Mississippi city of Tupelo.

People in the path of the huge system were on edge as the National Weather Service posted tornado watches and warnings around Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Forecasters said the system is the latest onslaught of severe weather that triggered deadly tornadoes in Arkansas and Oklahoma and have threatened flash floods, damaging hail and dangerous thunderstorms around the South.

Mississippi’s said injuries have been confirmed from the tornadoes in the Tupelo area and in Winston County in the central-north part of the state. Health department spokesman Jim Craig said emergency responders went to both areas but he did not know how many people had been injured because relief efforts were still underway. The National Weather Service said it confirmed the second tornado as well in Winston County.

Tornado in Tupelo, Mississippi (Chase Smith)
Tornado in Tupelo, Mississippi (Chase Smith)

Gov. Phil Bryant earlier in the day declared a state of emergency in advance of the expected bad weather. He told The Associated Press late Monday that so far no fatalities have been reported.

Bruce Ridgeway, vice president at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, said that hospital received six people with non-life-threatening injuries.

Tupleo Mayor Jason Shelton said damage was extensive in neighborhoods in the city. Authorities have sent teams to the region even before the arrival of the stormfront.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant had declared a state of emergency Monday in advance of the storms that forecasters have warned could trigger tornadoes, heavy downpours, damaging hail and flash floods.

The storm had emergency officials rushing to complete plans.

In Memphis, Tenn., officials declared a state of emergency in a county southwest of Nashville because of flash flooding. Authorities urged people there to seek higher ground after several homes and some business were flooded in Maury County and officials reported worries some school buses couldn’t get schoolchildren home over swamped roads.

“If it’s unsafe certainly the drivers are not going to chance it,” said a Maury County emergency official, Mark Blackwood, said of the school buses.

The same storm system was heading from Mississippi toward the Alabama line late Monday.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for most of north Alabama, and the entire state was under a flash flood watch. Tornado warnings began popping up on weather maps in Alabama as soon as storms crossed the Mississippi state line Monday afternoon.

More than 50 school systems shut down early in Alabama’s northern half as a precaution against having children and workers on the road in buses and cars when the storms arrived. Several cities closed municipal offices early.

The threat of dangerous weather jangled nerves a day after the three-year anniversary of an historic outbreak of more than 60 tornadoes that killed more than 250 across Alabama on April 27, 2011.

George Grabryan, director of emergency management for Florence and Lauderdale County in northwest Alabama, said 16 shelters opened before storms even moved in and people were calling nervously with questions about the weather.

“There’s a lot of sensitivity up here,” said Grabryan. “I’ve got a stack of messages here from people, many of them new to the area, wanting to know where the closest shelters are.”

Twisters killed at least 15 people in Arkansas and Oklahoma on Sunday, and forecasters said the system moving into Alabama could generate tornadoes with strength ratings of EF-3 or higher and damage tracks 30 miles long or worse.

While the severe weather might not be as widespread as the April 27 outbreak, the possibility of twisters after nightfall made the threat particularly ominous.

“From my perceptive the nighttime tornadoes are the worst-case scenarios,” said John De Block, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Birmingham.

Elsewhere, forecasters warned Georgia residents of a threat of tornadoes in northern and central counties in coming hours.

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