A wave of storms pounded the Deep South on Wednesday, leaving a trail of splintered trees and damaged buildings, and forecasters said still stronger ones were on the way with the potential for massive tornadoes, downpours and hail the size of baseballs.
Nearly 16 million people in the Southeast could see powerful storms, the Storm Prediction Center said.
A region of about 3 million stretching from southeastern Arkansas and northeastern Louisiana across Mississippi into Alabama was at high risk for big twisters that stay on the ground for miles, straight winds up to 80 mph and destructive hail.
Possible tornadoes knocked down trees, toppled power lines and damaged homes in rural Chilton County and the Alabama communities of Burnsville and Moundville, where power was out and trees blocked a main highway.
There were reports of 21 tornados – across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana – by Wednesday night, the Storm Prediction Center said.
National Weather Service Nashville meteorologist Brittney Whitehead said: ‘It’s really after dark that we’re going to see our highest severe weather threat.’
The NWS said Wednesday they expected a ‘significant tornado outbreak, with long-track, intense tornadoes’ to ‘spread eastward and peak this evening into tonight across Mississippi and Alabama’.
They warned of ‘numerous tornadoes, several intense and long track, scattered damaging winds, some hurricane force, scattered large hail, some baseball size.’
AccuWeather forecasting manager Dan DePodwin added: ‘We are very concerned about the risk to lives due to the potential for strong tornadoes to occur after dark on Wednesday over the south-central states.
‘Downtown Moundville got it. Some roofs and stuff got taken off houses,’ said Michael Brown, whose family owns Moundville Ace Hardware. and Building. ‘There´s a lot of trees down. I guess it had to be a tornado; it got out of here pretty fast.’
Additional damage was reported in Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, where video showed an apparent tornado at Brookhaven. High winds blew down signs and and trees in northeast Texas, and hailstones the size of baseballs were reported near the Alabama-Mississippi line, the weather service said.
More than 70,000 homes and businesses were without power from Texas to Alabama, and radar showed additional storms moving across the region as initial cleanup work began.