In and around Birmingham, many were grappling with damage to homes and businesses, some of it devastating, while officials worked to clear debris and help people stuck in their homes.
“Our priority at the moment is identifying those citizens in need of emergency medical attention,” John Samaniego, the sheriff in Shelby County, said in a statement. “This search-and-outreach effort will continue throughout the night and into the early morning hours.”
Meteorologists said a strong tornado scraped through a stretch of Georgia southwest of Atlanta just before midnight. Officials were not yet sure of the extent of the damage, but already, images were emerging early Friday that showed eviscerated homes, uprooted trees and tossed cars.
“The city experienced heavy damage in and around the historic downtown area due to tonight’s weather,” Newnan city officials said in a statement early Friday. “Please note that both the city and county crews are in route and working on scene to clear impacted areas. Please remain safe in your homes and take shelter. Stay safe!”
The barrage of dangerous storms started on Thursday after the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, urging residents facing the most imminent danger to “TAKE COVER NOW!” Forecasters also warned that other portions of those states, as well as Tennessee and Mississippi, could see storms that brought a high risk of tornadoes, as well as flash floods.
Officials warned residents to prepare as schools and government offices closed early. “Stay home, stay safe, stay informed,” Andy Berke, the mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., said on Twitter. In Birmingham, the city government opened safe rooms and put up barricades in areas prone to flooding.
On Thursday morning, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama declared a state of emergency in over 20 counties and pressed residents “to closely monitor the weather system,” especially if their areas were at high risk.