MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Severe storms raked the South amid days of drenching rains that swelled rivers and raised the flood threat, and one confirmed tornado struck a part of the east Mississippi city of Columbus on Saturday afternoon, authorities said.
The tornado hit in a downtown area of the eastern Mississippi city about 5 p.m. CST Saturday but details of how long it remained on the ground weren’t immediately known, meteorologist Anna Wolverton with the National Weather Service in Jackson told the Associated Press.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths or major damage, though local media reported some power outages.
“Radar confirmed a tornado,” Wolverton said by phone, adding a team would head out Sunday to assess its intensity after it hit in the city of about 23,000, not far from the state line with Alabama.
Elsewhere around the South, homes, highways, parks and bridges have been flooded or put out of commission amid the heavy rains and severe storms. News outlets report that water rescues have been performed in some Middle Tennessee counties. Flash flood warnings and watches remained in place throughout the South and one Mississippi community reported large hail.
Interstate 40 near the Tennessee line with North Carolina was closed by a rockslide, one of the dozens of roads and highways shut down throughout the South region, transportation officials said.
Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said on Twitter that a “full scale detour” was in place, with traffic being diverted to Interstate 81 and Interstate 26.
In Bruce, Mississippi, rivers broke flood stage and flash floods poured into homes and businesses. News outlets report that a local state of emergency was declared by officials in Grenada, Mississippi, after dozens of streets and homes flooded. A six-mile stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway was closed in Mississippi after water covered part of the road.
The National Weather Service had issued a flash flood warning for northwestern Lafayette County in Mississippi after emergency officials reported that a local dam was at risk of failing.
Meteorologist Kole Fehling says emergency officials reported the threat involved the Audubon Dam, which blocks a creek on the northside of Oxford and a subdivision. Emergency management officials were not immediately available for comment Saturday.
High water also threatened property in Tennessee, which, like many other areas of the South, has been soaked by several inches of rain over the past week. Officials said a mudslide destroyed a Subway restaurant in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. No injuries were reported.
Weather officials warned residents of the possibility of severe storms Saturday in western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas and parts of Alabama.
Kentucky announced Friday that it was closing the U.S. 51 bridge over the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, because of flooding on the southern approach. The bridge, which carries 4,700 vehicles a day, is likely to stay closed until Thursday, and possibly longer.
Near Jamestown, Kentucky, the Army Corps of Engineers said it was increasing releases from the Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River. Areas located downstream of the dam, from Rowena to Burkesville, could be affected by flooding as a result, officials said.
The Ohio River at Cairo is predicted to crest Sunday at its third-highest level ever recorded, and stay that high into next week. The Tennessee River near Savannah, Tennessee, also is forecast to crest at near-record levels.
In North Carolina, a Catawba County building inspector said extra weight from rain is suspected to have contributed to a partial roof collapse at a child day care center in Hickory. The Hickory Daily Record reported that firefighters responded to a roof collapse at Rainbow Child Care Center on Thursday morning. There were no children at the facility at the time, and no injuries were reported.
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