The calendar says it’s nearly Christmas, but the damage looks more like spring.
A powerful storm system roared across parts of the South, claiming at least 14 lives in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas and injuring scores more.
The Storm Prediction Center said at least 14 tornadoes hit Mississippi on Wednesday, but a single twister did most of the damage.
It started in northern Mississippi and didn’t lift up until western Tennessee. The National Weather Service said it may have been on the ground 150 miles.
“If it is continuous it would be the longest track (December) tornado on record here in the mid-South,” the Memphis office of the weather service said.
The storm managed to take a swipe at a number of small communities in northern Mississippi.
Damage reports came from Sardis, Clarksdale and Holly Springs.
The twister, which had a preliminary rating of EF-3, caught Lance Meeks by surprise when he stepped outside his door near Holly Springs.
“I laid down on the ground, and here come the tornado,” Meeks told CNN affiliate WTVA-TV. “Rolled right over me. Uprooted trees, cut trees in half. And I don’t know why I’m still standing here talking to you.”
Four people died in Benton County, two in Marshall County and one in Tippah County, authorities said. One person is unaccounted for in the state.
Among the dead was a 7-year-old boy in Marshall County, Coroner James Anderson said. The boy was in a car with his family near Holly Springs when a tornado came through the area.
At least 40 people across six Mississippi counties were injured in the storms, said Greg Flynn with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The driver of a tractor-trailer suffered minor injuries when the storm blew his rig over.
Video from affiliate WREG-TV showed three badly damaged houses in Como, just north of Sardis.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency in the aftermath of the storms.
On Thursday, four soaked counties told residents to stay home.
David Logan, the emergency management director of Barbour County, said: “Most of what we are trying to do is keep them off them county roads. We have a lot of gravel roads here.”
Several roads and bridges were flooded, he said, and it was impossible to determine if they were still safe to drive on, he said.
Tennessee and Arkansas
The storm made its way to Perry County, Tennessee, southwest of Nashville, where it killed two people. Three other people died in Maury County and one person was killed in Rhea County.
The state’s emergency management director, Gary Rogers, told CNN affiliate WZTV-TV that two other people are missing. Three homes were destroyed.
In Arkansas, an 18-year-old woman was killed Wednesday morning when a tree fell through the roof of her house in Atkins. Four other people in the house, including an 18-month-old, survived. The baby was hospitalized.
Pope County Sheriff Shane Jones said heavy rain and straight-line winds caused the large tree to fall on the home.
Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in three counties in the northern part of the state.
“Following severe weather and widespread flooding, I’ve declared a state of emergency in Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens Counties,” he tweeted.
To the south, in Atlanta, one interstate was jammed with traffic after a mudslide clogged a storm drain on the shoulder, CNN affiliate WSB reported. Some drivers reported being stuck in traffic for several hours, WSB said.
Violent storms subside, but rains continue
The Storm Prediction Center said the risk for violent weather drops dramatically on Christmas Eve, but the forecast stays soggy.
Flood advisories are up for large sections of Georgia and the Carolinas after days of rain have soaked the region.
Incoming flights to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport were delayed for up to two hours because of the weather, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Back in battered northern Mississippi, LaJohn Curry found time to thank God, even as he stood in the wreckage of his Holly Springs home.
Why? Because his mother and sister, who were home when the twister hit, weren’t hurt.
“It wasn’t about the house. It was about the family,” he told affiliate WMC-TV. “They are the most important thing to me.”