Storm damages homes, brings flood threat to South

Published 6:30 pm Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A storm front with severe weather settled across the South on Wednesday with heavy rains, a possible tornado in Alabama and damage to about 100 homes throughout the region.

Strong winds downed trees onto mobile homes and businesses in Arkansas and several people suffered broken bones. Storm debris blocked roads and damaged houses in north Mississippi, and tornado warning sirens interrupted students taking final exams at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Power was knocked out to thousands of homes and businesses.

Forecasters said winds with gusts estimated at 70 mph knocked down trees and damaged homes in Tuscaloosa County, and a funnel cloud was reported near Hamilton in west Alabama.

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The heavy rains soaked grounds already saturated by weekend rains, raising flooding fears. Parts of the region were under a flood watch or warning, and the nation’s largest utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, released water through its dams to prepare for the Mississippi River’s expected crest Sunday.

On Tuesday night, six tornadoes touched down in North Carolina, causing three minor injuries and damage to at least a dozen homes. National Weather Service forecasters said the severe storms could remain through Friday.

“As that moves east, the conditions will become more and more favorable for another round of storms,” said Ryan Ellis of the service’s Raleigh bureau. “We are looking at unsettled weather all the way through to the weekend.”

In the Charlotte area, firefighters made at least 50 water rescues because of flash flooding, but no injuries were reported.

Some areas across the region anticipated up to two inches of rain. Golf ball-sized hail was reported in parts of Arkansas.

At the central Alabama-Mississippi border, a campground worker said stiff winds and heavy rains blew through the area, but no one was hurt.

“For a lot of people it was scary enough that they got in the bathhouse,” said Margaret Simmons, a gate attendant at the Pickensville Campground. “Our lights are out and our phones and television went out, but we’re OK.”