Severe storms swept across the South on Thursday, where ferocious winds sent residents running for cover, blew roofs off homes and killed at least six people in Alabama.
Damaged powerlines, severed tree limbs and debris littered streets in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, where at least 34 preliminary tornado reports were recorded as of Thursday evening, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
Six people died in hard-hit Autauga County in central Alabama, where search efforts will continue Friday, county coroner Buster Barber told CNN.
“My prayers are with their loved ones and communities,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a tweet. “We are far too familiar with devastating weather, but our people are resilient. We will get through it and be stronger for it.”
In Selma, Alabama – known for its role in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and home to about 17,000 people – the storms left behind a trail of widespread destruction.
One Selma resident, Krishun Moore, said her house was torn up when the storm swept across her neighborhood. Moore and her mother sheltered in their bathroom, she said, and no one was injured.
“All we heard was wind and the whole house was shaking,” Moore told CNN.
At a Selma tax office, Deborah A. Brown said she and others had to rush to safety after seeing what looked like a tornado rolling down the street.
“We could have been gone, y’all,” Brown says in a Facebook video. “We had to run for cover. We had to go run and jump in the closet.”
The storms inflicted damage throughout the Southeast region, with more than 130 damaging wind reports recorded across states from Mississippi to Virginia. Governors in Alabama and Georgia both declared states of emergency in stricken areas to assist with rescue and cleanup efforts.
“We always keep in mind that while weather events are intriguing from a scientific perspective, they can result in deep and lasting impacts to people. Our thoughts are with those impacted by today’s severe weather,” the National Weather Service in Birmingham said in a tweet.
Due to the storms’ extensive impact on some roads in Georgia, 15 students at a middle school in an southern Atlanta suburb have been unable to go home and remained sheltered on school grounds Thursday night, according to their school system.
“Many of these remaining students live in areas not yet accessible due to debris in roadways,” Griffin-Spalding County School System said in a social media post late Thursday.
“They will be supervised and cared for until reunited with their families,” who may pick them up from the district’s central office after showing identification, the district said.
Spalding County, where the school district is located, declared a state of emergency Thursday due to a reported tornado in the community, officials said on Facebook, urging residents to shelter in place.
“When you start getting onto the roads, there’s going to be no way to get to where you’re going,” said T.J. Imberger, Spalding County public works director.
The Griffin-Spalding School District will be closed Friday as the area recovers from the severe storms.