Strong storms in the Southeast spawned tornadoes that touched down in Alabama and Mississippi Tuesday, damaging or destroying dozens of homes and at least one church, as well as a prison. No fatalities or major injuries were reported.
The worst damage occurred Tuesday in Sapps, Ala., a small community near the Mississippi border approximately 40 miles west of Tuscaloosa.
AL.com reported that dozens of homes were reduced to rubble and at least one moble home was cracked in half after it was apparently picked up, carried and dropped by high winds.
“I was in the bed asleep at the time and it woke me up. It sounded like a train,” Anthony Walker told AL.com. “It’s the first time in about 25 years a tornado hit here.”
The National Weather Service in Birmingham confirmed that a “large and destructive tornado” touched down near the city of Aliceville, about 45 miles west of Tuscaloosa, early Tuesday evening.
Aliceville Police Chief Tony Jones told AL.com that he only knew of two minor injuries in Sapps. “The number one thing is this community itself,” Jones said. “Neighbors were getting neighbors out of homes and to the shelter.”
Aliceville is also home to a federal prison that was in the path of the tornado. A Pickens County sheriff’s deputy barred reports from going beyond the front gate of the facility Tuesday evening.
“They’re trying to take care of the inmates right now,” the deputy said. “The windows blew out and there’s extensive damage.”
In Mississippi, Greg Flynn, spokesman for the state’s Emergency Management Agency, said a confirmed tornado was reported just before 3:30 p.m. in eastern Newton and Lauderdale counties, largely rural areas in the eastern part of the state. Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said the storm damaged homes, toppled trees and knocked out power.
The tornado appeared to be on the ground for about five miles in and near the small town of Collinsville, northwest of Meridian, Sollie said.
Student housing was damaged at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, which is northeast of Meridian in Kemper County, near the Alabama state line.
“Everyone is accounted for and safe, but student housing was damaged and EMCC is working to provide alternatives,” college spokeswoman Suzanne Monk said in a statement. She said it was unclear whether the damage on campus was caused by the tornado or straight-line winds.
First Baptist Church of Collinsville had “a good bit of structural damage,” Sollie said. He also said many trees were toppled, and power was knocked out.
Five counties in south and central Mississippi opened community safe rooms for people to take shelter, if needed, because of severe weather as a strong cold front moved through the state. The shelters were in Adams, Copiah, Forrest, Jones and Rankin counties.
The state emergency agency asked residents to prepare for the possibility of severe storms into Wednesday morning.
Later, in west Tennessee, high winds damaged several homes and school buildings in Crockett County. Public schools there were to be closed Wednesday as officials surveyed the damage. Law enforcement officials believed a tornado had passed through, but Weather Service meteorologists in Memphis said late Wednesday they couldn’t confirm a touchdown, The Jackson Sun reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.