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November 17, 2011

6 dead as storms, possible tornadoes hit Southeast

By Mitch Weiss
Associated Press

ROCK HILL, S.C. — At least six people have been killed and dozens more injured as a storm system that spawned several possible tornadoes moved across the Southeast.

Suspected tornadoes were reported Wednesday in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. Dozens of homes and buildings were damaged and thousands of people were without power as trees and power lines were downed.

In South Carolina, three people were killed and five injured when a likely tornado swept through a rural community near Rock Hill, about 20 miles south of Charlotte, N.C. In north Georgia, a man was killed when a tree fell on his sport utility vehicle. Authorities also said an adult and child were killed in central North Carolina.

In York County in northern South Carolina, Sheriff Bruce Bryant asked Gov. Nikki Haley for state assistance in cleaning up the debris. Authorities blocked roads leading into the area and only allowed emergency workers and power crews in.

Just south of Rock Hill, Henry Taylor said he was home watching television with his wife when he saw a tornado warning flash on the screen. A minute later, he saw a funnel cloud out his window.

"It looked like the `Wizard of Oz,'" said Taylor, 50. "It was surreal, and for a moment, a split second, you say to yourself `This ain't real,' then reality sets in, and you know it is."

Taylor said he and his wife sought refuge in a closet as the storm roared outside.

"I held my wife closely in the closet and I prayed. I said, `Oh my God, this is it. I'm going to be buried in the debris. We're going to die,'" Taylor said.

But as quickly as the tornado hit, the winds dissipated. Taylor said part of his roof was torn off, windows were blown out, and trees had been snapped in two, but he and his wife were unharmed.

"I guess it wasn't our time," he said, wiping back tears at his home Thursday. "I guess God helped us."

In eastern Alabama, a suspected twister splintered trees and demolished mobile homes at a pair of housing parks near the Auburn University campus. Less than seven months ago, a massive tornado roared past the campus of archrival University of Alabama in the western part of the state.

It was the worst bout of weather for the state since about 250 people were killed during the tornado outbreak in April. Both campuses were spared major damage this time.

As weather service experts fanned out to assess damage, Auburn graduate student Staci DeGeer didn't have any doubts about what sent a pair of trees crashing through her mobile home at Ridgewood Village.

"It's tornado damage. I'm from Kansas; I know tornado damage," said DeGeer, who wasn't home at the time. "It's kind of hit or miss. There will be two or three (trailers) that are bad and then a few that are OK."

Trees fell on homes in southeastern Mississippi, where Jones County emergency director Don McKinnon said some people were briefly trapped. Mobile homes were tossed off their foundations. In all, 15 people were hurt in the area.

At least 10 people were injured when a possible tornado ripped through an area south of Lexington in North Carolina, destroying one building, damaging several others and leaving thousands without electricity.

Forecasters said a cold front stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Northeast was to blame. Temperatures dropped in some areas from the low 70s to the 50s as the front passed, and winds gusted to near 30 mph.

Damage was reported in several parts of Alabama. In Sumter County, in the west-central part of the state, an elderly woman was in her home as a tree crashed into it. She had to be taken to the hospital.

In Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, the day was a harsh reminder of the threat of violent weather for communities still recovering from the killer tornadoes.

"It makes you sit up on the edge of the chair a little more," said Tom Perryman, who works for the school system in Tuscaloosa County, which was hard hit in April.

Nearby, DeGeer's dog Jack rode out the storm in her mobile home without injury, but the trailer itself didn't fare as well.

"It looks like I redecorated with a wilderness theme. There are trees through my house," she said.

In southern Louisiana, a suspected tornado hit a neighborhood in Houma, splintering a home. Crews helped clean up storm debris near a school and the Red Cross sent workers to help with damage assessments.


Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Rock Hill, S.C., and Bob Johnson and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this report.


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