Authorities: Tornadoes kill 9 in South; watches, warnings still active in Alabama

The Associated Press

Hunter Allred attempts to coax out a cat that was underneath a home along Clayton Ave in Tupelo, Miss., Monday, April 28, 2014. Allred was helping the home's owner who had returned looking for pets after a severe weather system blew through the South. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Brad Vest)

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In northern Alabama, the coroner's office confirmed two deaths Monday in a twister that caused extensive damage west of the city of Athens, said Limestone County Emergency Director Rita White. White said more victims could be trapped in the wreckage of damaged buildings, but rescuers could not reach some areas because of downed power lines.

Separately, Limestone Commissioner Bill Latimer said he received reports of four deaths in the county from one of his workers. Neither the governor's office nor state emergency officials could immediately confirm those deaths.

Numerous watches and warnings were still active in Alabama, with forecasters warning the severe weather could continue all night.

In Tupelo, Miss., a community of about 35,000 in northeastern Mississippi, every building in a two-block area south of U.S. Highway 78 had suffered damage, officials told a reporter on the scene. Some buildings had their roofs sheared off, while power lines had been knocked down completely or bent at 45-degree angles. Road crews were using heavy machinery to clear off other streets.

The Northeast Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo had received 30 patients as of Monday night, four of whom were being admitted with non-life-threatening injuries, said center spokeswoman Deborah Pugh. Pugh said the other 26 patients were treated for minor injuries and released.

Bryant declared a state of emergency Monday in advance of the storms, which sent emergency officials rushing to put plans in place.

Residents and business owners were not the only ones seriously rattled by the tornadoes.

NBC affiliate WTVA-TV chief meteorologist Matt Laubhan in Tupelo, Miss., was reporting live on the severe weather about 3 p.m. when he realized the twister was coming close enough that maybe he and his staff should abandon the television studio.

"This is a tornado ripping through the city of Tupelo as we speak. And this could be deadly," he said in a video widely tweeted and broadcast on YouTube.

Moments later he adds, "A damaging tornado. On the ground. Right now."

The video then shows Laubhan peeking in from the side to see if he is still live on the air before yelling to staff off-camera to get down in the basement.

"Basement, now!" he yells, before disappearing off camera himself.

Later, the station tweeted, "We are safe here."

With the wind howling outside and rain blowing sideways, Monica Foster rode out a tornado warning with her two daughters, ages 10 and 12, inside a gas station near Fayette, Ala. One of the girls cried as the three huddled with a station employee in a storage area beside a walk-in cooler.

Foster, who was returning home to Lynn on rural roads after a funeral in Tuscaloosa, said she typically would have kept driving through the deluge.

"I wouldn't have pulled in if I didn't have the two girls," she said.

The threat of dangerous weather jangled nerves a day after the three-year anniversary of a historic outbreak of more than 60 tornadoes that killed more than 250 people across Alabama on April 27, 2011.

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Amy reported from Louisville, Miss. Associated Press writers Jack Elliott Jr. and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala.; AP Photographer Butch Dill in Fayette, Ala.; Phillip Lucas in Atlanta; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.

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