TUPELO, Miss. – Tornadoes flattened homes and businesses, flipped trucks over on highways and bent telephone poles into 45-degree angles as they barreled through Alabama and Mississippi on Monday, part of a storm system that killed at least nine people in the South and brought the overall death toll from two days of severe weather in the country to at least 26.
Tens of thousands of customers were without power in Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi, and thousands more hunkered down in basements and shelters as the National Weather Service issued watches and warnings for more tornadoes throughout the night in Alabama. Radar images showed a twister heading toward the city of Birmingham shortly after midnight Monday.
Weather satellites from space showed tumultuous clouds arcing across much of the South over the course of the day Monday.
The system is the latest onslaught of severe weather a day after a half-mile-wide tornado carved an 80-mile path of destruction through the suburbs of Little Rock, Ark., killing at least 15. Tornadoes or severe storms also killed one person each in Oklahoma and Iowa on Sunday.
Six people died in Winston County, Miss., including a woman who died in the day care center she owned in Louisville, county Coroner Scott Gregory told the Associated Press late Monday. Louisville is the county seat and home to about 6,600 people.
It was unclear if any children were in the day care at the time, said William McCully, acting spokesman for the Winston County Emergency Management Agency.
Earlier Monday, emergency officials attending a news conference with Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said seven people had been killed statewide. State Director of Health Protection Jim Craig said officials were working with coroners to confirm the total. It was unclear if the deaths in Winston County were included in that tally.
One of the deaths involved a woman who was killed when her car either hydroplaned or was blown off a road during the storm in Verona, south of Tupelo, said Lee County Coroner Carolyn Gillentine Green.
In northern Alabama, the coroner’s office confirmed two deaths Monday in a twister that caused extensive damage west of the city of Athens, said Limestone County Emergency Director Rita White. White said more victims could be trapped in the wreckage of damaged buildings, but rescuers could not reach some areas because of downed power lines.
Separately, Limestone Commissioner Bill Latimer said he received reports of four deaths in the county from one of his workers. Neither the governor’s office nor state emergency officials could immediately confirm those deaths.
Numerous watches and warnings were still active in Alabama shortly before midnight Monday, with forecasters warning the severe weather could continue all night.
In Tupelo, a community of about 35,000 in northeastern Mississippi, every building in a two-block area south of U.S. Highway 78 had suffered damage, officials told a reporter on the scene. Some buildings had their roofs sheared off, while power lines had been knocked down completely or bent at 45-degree angles. Road crews were using heavy machinery to clear other streets.
The Northeast Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo had received 30 patients as of Monday night, four of whom were being admitted with non-life-threatening injuries, said center spokeswoman Deborah Pugh.
Mississippi Republican Sen. Giles Ward huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four other family members and their 19-year-old dog Monday as a tornado destroyed his two-story brick house in Louisville and flipped his son-in-law’s SUV upside down onto the patio.
“For about 30 seconds, it was unbelievable,” Ward said. “It’s about as awful as anything we’ve gone through.”