A system of severe storms spawned over 40 tornados across the American south on Thursday, with especially powerful twisters killing at least eight people in Alabama and Georgia.
Autauga County, located between the cities of Selma and Montgomery, saw the majority of fatalities after a particularly devastating tornado carved a 20-mile path through rural communities.
Ernie Baggett, the county’s Emergency Management Administration director, said that seven people were killed by the twister. Another 12 were hospitalized with serious injuries.
All seven deaths were reported in the tiny unincorporated town of Old Kingston, Baggett said. Many of the properties that were destroyed were mobile homes. ‘They weren’t just blown over, they were blown a distance,’ Baggett said.
The director also said he expects they will discover more fatalities as the storm cleanup goes on.
Another massive twister, categorized as an EF-1 tornado by the National Weather Service (NWS), traveled about 30 miles across the state’s northwest. The tornado reached wind speeds of over 104 miles per hour, the NWS said.
‘I am sad to have learned that six Alabamians were lost to the storms that ravaged across our state,’ Governor Kay Ivey said.
The governor declared a state of emergency as the communities assessed the damage. ‘My prayers are with their loved ones and communities. We are far too familiar with devastating weather, but our people are resilient. We will get through it and be stronger for it.’
A seventh person was killed in Georgia, where a tree was uprooted and thrown onto a vehicle in the town of Jackson.
In the nearby town of Griffin, Georgia, photos show massive destruction to suburban housing developments and cars flipped upside-down.
The NWS reported additional tornados in Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
The twisters also did significant damage to electrical infrastructure, leaving hundreds of thousands of customers out of power across the south on Thursday.
About 19,000 customers in Alabama and 23,000 customers in Georgia were still out of power on Friday morning.
Forecasters said the storm was exacerbated by conditions from La Nina, the atmospheric phenomenon which produces cooler ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific.
La Nina can drastically change weather across the world, and cool air from the Pacific combined with warmer air from the Gulf of Mexico produced a particularly destructive storm system on Thursday.
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