SHUQUALAK, Miss. – A strong spring storm that socked the Midwest with ice and heavy, wet snow made its way east, raking the South with tornadoes Thursday, with three deaths blamed on the rough weather and thousands of people left without power.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said Thursday one person died and several people were injured after a reported tornado struck Kemper County in the far-eastern part of the state.
At Contract Fabricators Inc. in Kemper County, where authorities said one person died and another was injured, bent pieces of tin hung from the heavily damaged building. A tractor trailer was twisted and overturned. Debris from the business was strewn through the woods across the street.
The T-shaped system first swept across the nation’s midsection Wednesday night and pummeled portions of Missouri, where the National Weather Service said Thursday that an EF-2 tornado appears to have damaged dozens of homes in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood. That category of tornado generally packs winds of 113 to 157 mph.
As the system was moving through the Southeast, high winds knocked over trees and power lines in rural west Alabama and eastern Mississippi. About 50 school systems in central and north Alabama sent students home early, and a few government offices and businesses also closed early. By late Thursday, the weather service was receiving reports of quarter- to baseball-size hail in northeastern Georgia and western parts of the Carolinas.
The line of severe storms was trudging east toward Georgia, where the world’s best golfers are playing in the Masters at Augusta National. The weather was warm and sunny on the first day of the four-day tournament but severe storms were forecast overnight.
Late Thursday, Tennessee authorities declared a state of emergency after a possible tornado was reported in Monroe County, in the far-eastern part of the state.
Behind it in Missouri and neighboring Illinois, crews with the weather service were still assessing whether tornadoes were to blame for other damage, meteorologist Mark Fuchs said. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency shortly after the storm swept through the eastern part of Missouri, bringing hail, up to 2 1/2 inches of rain and strong winds.
Utility workers scrambled to restore power to more than 23,000 still-affected Missouri homes and businesses. One utility worker for Ameren Missouri was electrocuted while doing work to repair damage, the company said. The company said he was taken to an area hospital but did not survive.
In the upper Midwest, thousands of homes and businesses also lost power because of heavy wet snow, ice and wind in the past couple of days, while rain and snow raised flooding concerns in various areas of the Midwest. A suspected tornado caused damage in Arkansas.
A third death was reported in the Nebraska Panhandle, where a woman perished Tuesday when she tried to trudge through a blinding snowstorm from her disabled car to her house a mile away.