SAVANNAH, Ga.—Violent storms killed at least two people, one in Georgia and another in Texas, on Tuesday as hail, strong winds and tornadoes tore across the South, where authorities warned a second day of dangerous weather of violent weather could follow.
A woman died Tuesday evening in Pembroke, Georgia, where a suspected tornado ripped part of the roof from the Bryan County courthouse, destroyed the entrance to a local government building across the street and damaged homes in nearby neighborhoods, said Matthew Kent, a county government spokesman.
Kent said several others were injured in the county 30 miles west of Savannah. He said the death occurred in one of the damaged neighborhoods, but had no further details.
In eastern Texas, W. M. Soloman, 71, died when storm winds toppled a tree onto Solomon’s home in Whitehouse, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, Whitehouse Mayor James Wansley said. Officials said trees fell on at least four homes there.
More than 50,000 homes and businesses were without power Tuesday night from eastern Texas to South Carolina. The outages came on a day when the National Weather Service issued a nonstop stream of tornado warnings for hours as the storm system tore across Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
In southeast Georgia, Gage Moore, 23, was driving home from work Tuesday evening on Interstate 16 in the county where Pembroke is located when his fiance called saying she heard tornado sirens. About two minutes later, Moore said, he looked up to see a towering twister looming to the left of the highway.
Moore said he pulled over and stopped his car behind an overpass, then took cellphone video of the funnel cloud churning across the interstate.
“Everybody started slamming on brakes all around me,” Moore said. “I could actually feel my truck shaking back and forth and hear the roar of it passing by.” He added: “Thankfully we all stopped and left a huge gap in the interstate where it crossed.”
Afterward, Moore continued his commute home. He said he could tell where the twister crossed the highway because of the mangled exit sign and damaged trees left behind. “Some were bent and some were broken,” Moore said, “the tops were broken out of them.”
In South Carolina, Allendale County Manager William Goodson said a tornado, captured in a video on social media, caused damage in his rural county, but exactly how much and whether there were any injuries were unknown.
“I know we have buildings damaged and power lines down,” Goodson said.
Debate also was delayed for nearly an hour in the South Carolina legislature after the state House chamber was evacuated for a tornado warning for Columbia. The legislation being debated would require athletes to compete with the gender listed on their birth certificates.
The weather service said it was sending survey teams to examine potential tornado damage in Wetumpka, Alabama. Lightning struck a flea market in the north Alabama community of Lacey’s Spring, causing a fire that gutted the building, news outlets reported.
Fallen trees and limbs closed a stretch of highway for hours in Newton County, Mississippi. As storms pushed into Georgia, a large tree fell and crashed through the roof of Marie Jordan’s home in metro Atlanta, coming down in the living room, kitchen and garage.
“It just took everything,” Jordan told WSB-TV. “For years and years, I have watched that tree.”
Elsewhere in Texas, one person was injured when the storms swept through Johnson County, about 40 miles southwest of Dallas. Brittaney Deaton said she became trapped in an RV trailer behind her family’s home after the trailer flipped over. She said her stepfather got injured trying to free her.
“I was screaming on the phone. I couldn’t get out. I was terrified,” Deaton told KDFW-TV. “And I felt like I was just trapped, like it was going to roll with me in it. And I just thank God that I got out.”
The threat of damaging weather will move further north on Wednesday, forecasters said, with severe storms possible across an area stretching from western Alabama to the western tip of the Carolinas. More than 10 million people in metro areas including Atlanta; Birmingham; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, will be at risk, the Storm Prediction Center said.
Springtime often brings strong storms to the Southeast. Te region has faced a barrage of weather recently that included a tornado last month in metro New Orleans, where one person died, and storms that killed at least two people in the Florida Panhandle last week.
By Russ Bynum