Parts of the southeastern U.S. were reeling Friday after extreme weather and tornadoes tore a swath of destruction across the region Thursday night, killing at least nine people in Alabama and Georgia.
The National Weather Service issued dozens of tornado watches and warnings across several states including Alabama and Georgia, which received the brunt of the severe storms. At least 35 possible tornado touchdowns were reported across the Southeast, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said.
At least seven people died in central Alabama, where the weather service reported a “large and extremely dangerous tornado” Thursday that slammed into Selma and nearby areas, reducing homes and businesses to battered and shredded piles of debris.
‘TORNADO ALLEY’ EXPANDING:Southern states see more twisters now than ever before
SEVERE WEATHER OUTBREAK:7 dead in Alabama, Georgia after tornadoes, severe storms ravage Southeast
At least 14 Alabama counties were hit with possible tornado damage, according to the weather service. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency amid the tornado threat.
“We are far too familiar with devastating weather, but our people are resilient,” Ivey tweeted.
In Georgia’s Butts County, a 5-year-old died after a tree fell on her mother’s car Thursday, said Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director James Stallings.
A confirmed EF1 tornado also hit Mercer County, Kentucky, according to the weather service, while emergency management officials in Mississippi surveyed possible tornado damage in Monroe County Thursday.
Here’s what to know about the severe weather that ripped through the Southeast:
Alabama homes damaged, lose electricity
Around 42,000 customers were without power across Alabama and Georgia by Friday, according to PowerOutage.us — an improvement from the 126,000 outages reported across both states Thursday night.
BEFORE AND AFTER:Drastic images capture the devastation from a series of storms in California
Authorities found the seventh Alabama victim Friday morning in a wooded area, said Autauga County Sheriff David Hill. No one else was reported missing as of Friday, he said.
“This is hopefully the last one,” Hill said of the seventh fatality.
The tornado that sliced a 20-mile path through the historic city of Selma’s downtown area in south-central Alabama collapsed buildings, uprooted trees, tossed vehicles, shredded power lines and ignited at least one fire.
Autauga County emergency management director Ernie Baggett said the tornado wrecked about 40 homes, including several mobile homes launched into the air.
“They weren’t just blown over,” Baggett said. “They were blown a distance.”
Six reported deaths happened about 40 miles northeast of Selma, he said. The mayor of the 18,000-population city, James Perkins, said no one had died there despite several serious injuries.
“We have a lot of downed power lines,” Perkins said. “There is a lot of danger on the streets.”
People trapped after storm slams Georgia
Suspected tornado damage hit at least five Georgia counties, according to the weather service.
At least one death – a 5-year-old child – was reported in Georgia during the severe weather after a tree fell on a vehicle in Butts County’s Jackson, located southeast of Atlanta, officials said. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who issued a state of emergency in response to the storms, expressed heartbreak over the tragedy and “terrible loss” via Twitter.
‘TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN’:98% of California homeowners don’t have flood insurance
The powerful weather appeared to derail a freight train in the same county, officials said.
A Georgia Department of Transportation worker was also killed while responding to storm damage, according to Kemp.
Residents of an apartment complex in Griffin, also south of Atlanta, were trapped after the storm knocked trees onto the building. Firefighters rescued a Griffin man pinned for hours after a tree hit his home, officials told local news outlets.
What caused the severe weather outbreak?
Thursday’s destructive and deadly tornado outbreak stemmed from three factors: a natural La Nina weather cycle, the Gulf of Mexico’s likely climate-change-related warming and tornadoes’ decades-long shift from the western U.S. to east, according to Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Victor Gensini.
WHAT IS THE PATH FORWARD? Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis closed school campuses (again)
The La Nina – a cooling of parts of the Pacific Ocean that impacts global weather – helped created a wavy jet stream that ushered in a cold front, according to Gensini, who studies tornado trends.
This time of year, the southeast’s air is fairly dry, but the dew point was twice what is normal, Gensini said. This was likely caused by the Gulf’s unusually warm water. The moisture hitting the cold front created conditions favorable for a tornado outbreak, he said.
Contributing: Alex Gladden, Marty Roney and Evan Mealins, Montgomery Advertiser; The Associated Press