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A “dangerous” tornado in Alabama struck buildings and uprooted trees across the state

A giant swirling storm system spiraling across the South sparked a tornado on Thursday that ripped walls and roofs off homes and uprooted trees in Selma, Alabama, a city engraved in the history of the civil rights movement.

Brick buildings collapsed, cars were on their sides and traffic jams littered the downtown area. Plumes of thick black smoke billowed over the city from a blazing fire. It was not immediately known if the storm caused the fire.

In Selma, local firefighters responded to a warehouse fire located on JL Chestnut Avenue Thursday afternoon.

The National Weather Service said the “large and extremely dangerous” tornado caused damage as it passed through the historic city. Videos showed the extent of the damage, as cameras captured scenes of scattered debris and buildings destroyed by the storm.

There were no immediate reports of deaths, but the weather service said there were confirmed reports of tree damage and structural damage in Selma and reports of damage in other counties. More than 50,000 customers were without power in Alabama, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages across the country. The hurricane also led to poor cell service for residents.

Severe weather tornado
Damaged structure and debris are seen in the aftermath of severe weather, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in Selma, Ala. A major tornado destroyed homes and uprooted trees in Alabama Thursday as a powerful storm system pushed across the south.

Butch Dale / AP

Former Senator Hank Sanders said there was damage “all over Selma”.

“Hurricane Selma was definitely devastated. In fact, it hit our house, but not head-on. It blew out the windows in the bedroom and in the living room. It’s raining through the kitchen ceiling,” Sanders said.

Selma, with a population of about 18,000, is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery, which also experienced severe weather Thursday.

Selma was a flashpoint in the civil rights movement. Alabama state troopers viciously attacked black voting rights advocates as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. Among those beaten by law enforcement officers was John Lewis, whose skull was fractured. He went on to a long and distinguished career as a member of the United States Congress.

Selma Mayor James Perkins said WSFA At least one person is believed to be trapped in a building on Broad Street and another person may be missing. There are many downed power lines, and it is considered an emergency.

Pictures from the Selma Times-Journal showed that the outer casing of a two-story building was torn away by the storm. Huge pieces of insulation and metallic materials were wrapped around a tree trunk, and fallen tree branches enclosed a sign that read, “Welcome to Historic Selma.”

Severe weather tornado
Downed trees seen in wake of severe weather, Thursday, January 12, 2023, in Selma, Ala. A major tornado damaged homes and uprooted trees in Alabama Thursday as a powerful storm system pushed through the south.

Butch Dale / AP

Malisha McVay and her family drove parallel to the hurricane. It was less than a mile from her house, she said, before turning abruptly.

“We stopped and prayed. We followed her and prayed,” she said. “It was a 100% God thing that he turned right before hitting my home.”

I took a video of the giant tornado, which would turn black as it swept through house after house.

“It was hitting a house and black smoke was coming out,” she said. “It was very terrifying.”

The weather service issued a tornado emergency for several counties north of the capital, Montgomery, as the storm system itself moved east. “This is a life-threatening situation. Take cover immediately,” the weather service said of the reported tornado.

Multiple tornado warnings were issued Thursday for Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee as the storm system moved through the region.

Severe weather tornado
Damaged structure and debris are seen in the aftermath of severe weather, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, in Selma, Ala. A major tornado destroyed homes and uprooted trees in Alabama Thursday as a powerful storm system pushed across the south.

Butch Dale / AP

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency Thursday night. Announce on Twitter The proclamation will apply to six counties: Otoga, Chambers, Coca Cola, Dallas, Elmore and Tallapoosa counties. Selma is located in Dallas County.

In Georgia, more than 100,000 customers were without power before sunset Thursday, as the storm system made its way through a layer of counties south of Atlanta, according to PowerOutage.us.

Local media reported that the storm hit the city of Griffin, south of Atlanta, where winds destroyed a shopping district. The Hobby Lobby store partially lost its roof, and at least one car was flipped over in a nearby Walmart parking lot.

Damage was also reported west of downtown Atlanta in Douglas County and Cobb County, where the Cobb County government released a damage report showing a crumbling concrete block wall at a warehouse on the outskirts of Austell.

In Kentucky, the National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed that an EF-1 tornado had struck Mercer County and said crews were surveying damage in a handful of other counties. There were reports of fallen trees, power outages and other scattered damage from the storms that swept the state.

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