Tornadoes have roared across parts of western Georgia and Alabama, where at least five people died in twisters that wrecked homes, splintered trees and crumpled businesses.
Meteorologists said a large, dangerous tornado swept through metro Atlanta’s Coweta County around midnight on Friday, sparking a tornado emergency for the city of Newnan and surrounding communities. There were several reports of downed trees and power lines.
Newnan police asked residents to “get off the roads” in a Facebook post, explaining that emergency officials were surveying the area.
Newnan Utilities said the storm knocked out phone and internet services. Hours later, general manager Dennis McEntire said the phone lines had returned, and urged residents to follow the utility on social media for any updates.
“It’s still dark so it’s hard to assess all of the damage but we believe we have 30 broken poles,” he said. “We serve about 10,000 customers and about half are without electricity right now.”
Mr McEntire said the damage from the storm was severe and it will “take several days, with the help from outside crews, to put the system together again”.
Newnan mayor Keith Brady said no fatalities were immediately reported.
The storm followed a series of tornadoes that ripped through Alabama on Thursday, including one that authorities said travelled roughly 100 miles across the state.
In east Alabama, Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said five people died as a twister cut a diagonal path across the county, striking mostly rural areas — something that is likely to have kept the death toll from being higher.
“Our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go to the families, and we are going to do our best to let them know we love them,” Mr Wade said at an evening briefing.
Multiple twisters sprang from a “super cell” of storms that later moved into Georgia, said John De Block, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama.
Vast areas of Shelby County near Birmingham — the state’s biggest city — were badly damaged.
Centreville mayor Mike Oakley told ABC 33/40 news that a local airport was hit. “We have airplanes torn apart like toys. We’ve got homes along here that are totally destroyed, trees down, power lines down. It’s pretty devastating.”
As many as eight tornadoes might have hit Alabama on Thursday, Mr De Block said, adding that investigation teams will review eight suspected tornado tracks, and the final number will depend on if any of those tracks can be connected.
First lady Jill Biden postponed a trip to Birmingham and Jasper, Alabama, planned for Friday because of the weather, her office said in a news release.
“Thinking of everyone in Alabama and all of those impacted by the severe weather across the South tonight. My prayers are with the grieving families. Please stay safe,” she tweeted late on Thursday.
Earlier, Alabama governor Kay Ivey issued an emergency declaration for 46 counties, and officials opened shelters in and around Birmingham.
Other parts of the southern US were also affected, with dangerous thunderstorms and flooding concerns for parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas.
In addition to deaths in Alabama, Mississippi had a storm-related death on Wednesday. Ester Jarrell, 62, died in Wilkinson County when a large tree toppled over on to her mobile home after heavy rain soaked the ground, an official said.