JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A powerful spring storm unleashed tornadoes and winds strong enough to peel the roofs from homes in the Deep South and heaped snow and ice on the Midwest, killing three people and leaving thousands without power.
The National Weather Service confirmed Friday that the storm system spawned 12 tornadoes in six states in recent days. Forecasters said they had confirmed three tornadoes each in Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama; and one each in Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia.
Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tornado in Mississippi on Thursday. In Missouri, a utility worker repairing power lines was electrocuted, and a woman in Nebraska died when she tried to trudge through a blinding snowstorm from her broken-down car to her house a mile away.
Golf-ball and baseball-sized hail pelted parts of Georgia and the Carolinas late Thursday and early Friday. The second day of play at the Masters at Augusta National in eastern Georgia began as scheduled Friday morning, though, and skies had cleared by the afternoon. The course was a bit wet but otherwise undamaged.
High winds knocked down trees and power lines across the Southeast. Sleet and freezing rain made driving treacherous in northern New York, where several schools closed Friday and scores of others delayed the start of classes.
And more wintry weather was on the way for the nation’s northern tier.
The weather service was predicting that another storm system would hit the north-central U.S. starting Saturday afternoon, potentially bringing 6 to 12 inches of snow to parts of eastern Montana, much of North Dakota, northern South Dakota and northern Minnesota.
In the Deep South, meanwhile, families and business persons were picking up the pieces Friday after powerful storms pounded the region a day earlier.
In Mississippi, Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Rent said that one person died and 10 people were injured after a tornado struck Kemper County in the far-eastern part of the state on Thursday. Authorities said the man was killed when the tornado ripped apart a business. The National Weather Service said Friday that that tornado was a category EF-3 storm, with winds of 145 mph.
At Contract Fabricators Inc. in Kemper County, bent pieces of tin hung from a heavily damaged building. A tractor-trailer was twisted and overturned, and debris from the business was strewn through the woods across the street.
Derek Cody, an amateur storm chaser who works at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, just south of Shuqualak (pronounced SHUG-a-lock), told The Associated Press he drove north on Thursday to the small town to try to catch a glimpse of a tornado.
Cody said the center of Shuqualak, an eastern Mississippi town of 500 people, was unaffected. But he said a gas station and about 10 or so houses west of the town center were damaged. He said one house was “completely flattened” with debris blown across the road.
Charlotte Conner, 47, and her mother were in a small, concrete block apartment on her family’s property in Shuqualak in Noxubee County when the twister mowed it to the ground. The building, an old country store converted to an apartment, was reduced to a heap of broken concrete blocks and boards.
Conner said in a telephone interview Friday that she grabbed her mother’s hand to keep the woman from being sucked out of the house. The two women had injured knees, scratches and bruises, and Conner had five stitches in her chin.
“I feel like I’ve been run over by an elephant and a train, but we’re alive,” Conner said. “It was just the hand of God that kept us safe.”
Conner’s aunt, Cindy Moore, 56, worried that the two women had been killed when she saw the roof of the concrete block building they were in hung in trees across the street in Shuqualak and their belongings scattered in the yard.
In Alabama, officials confirmed a tornado with winds up to 120 mph blew through a rural stretch east of Montgomery. Two weaker tornadoes touched down in Huntsville — about 190 miles north of Notasulga, where an EF-2 tornado hit. No one was hurt in the state, though damage was scattered across several counties.
Friday-morning light showed there wasn’t much left of the two-story home near Notasulga that 41-year-old James Brooks shared with his wife, Billieanne, and their three children.
With the lights out and the storm bearing down on the home, Brooks said he went to the kitchen to get a candle. Loud thunder rumbled continuously, and he dove to the floor.
Then, he said, “The house exploded.”
Much of Brooks’ roof was missing afterward, his wooden workshop was gone and linens hung across bare rafters. His two boats were damaged along with two cars and two trucks; the trampoline was in the neighbor’s yard.
“What can we do?” asked Brooks, who built the home.
The system first swept across the nation’s midsection Wednesday night and pummeled portions of Missouri. An EF-2 tornado damaged dozens of homes in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, in this case bringing winds of 111 to 125 mph, the National Weather Service said Friday. More than 23,000 homes and businesses lost power. A utility worker for Ameren Missouri was electrocuted while helping to repair damage, the company said.
In the upper Midwest over the past couple of days, heavy, wet snow, ice and wind left thousands of homes and businesses without power. Some rivers topped their banks in Michigan, forcing officials to close roads and some residents to evacuate their homes.
In Wisconsin, authorities in Kenosha County on Friday closed a section of State Highway 75 as they kept an eye on a levee that was in danger of failing because of heavy rains.
As South Dakota residents started to clean up after a major spring storm brought freezing rain and heavy snow that snapped tree branches, residents of North Dakota were bracing for another wallop.
North Dakota could see freezing rain and as much as a foot of snow this weekend, the weather service said. Strong winds could accompany the storm, creating near-blizzard conditions and making travel hazardous.
Associated Press writers Kristi Eaton in Sioux Falls, N.D.; Jim Suhr and Jim Salter in St. Louis; Jeff Amy in Jackson, Miss.; David Runk in Detroit; Kathy Wingard in Notasulga, Ala.; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., and Phillip Lucas and Norman Gomlak in Atlanta contributed to this report.