PEMBROKE, Ga. – After violent storms blamed for killing at least three people, Southerners cleared fallen trees from roadways Wednesday and began cleaning up debris from homes and buildings smashed by suspected tornadoes as forecasters warned more violent weather was likely on the way.
In southeast Georgia, residents of Bryan County had barely begun recovery efforts after a likely tornado touched down Tuesday evening, killing one woman and injuring several other people, when local officials urged them to halt work by mid-afternoon Wednesday and take shelter for the night.
The National Weather Service said another round of tornadoes was possible Wednesday, with heightened risk across a three-state area that included the cities of Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; and Knoxville, Tennessee.
Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday declared a state of emergency following Tuesday's storms, which were blamed for killing people in Louisiana and Texas. The move effectively frees up state resources to be used in storm recovery and response efforts.
Louisiana state police said Gene Latin, a 65-year-old correctional officer, was killed early Tuesday when he crashed into a tree that had fallen across a highway as storms blew through Webster Parish. And in east Texas, 71-year-old W. M. Soloman died when storm winds toppled a tree onto his home in Whitehouse, said Mayor James Wansley.
In Bryan County, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Savannah, a woman was found dead Tuesday night amid the shredded wreckage of her mobile home in the unincorporated community of Ellabell, said Bryan County Coroner Bill Cox.
“It was just completely ripped to pieces,” Cox said Wednesday. “It’s like it exploded.”
Cox said the dead woman’s husband was taken to a hospital with injuries. He did not give her name, saying relatives were still being notified.
A motorist’s cellphone video taken in Bryan County showed a large funnel cloud crossing Interstate 16 as drivers braked and pulled to the side of the roadway.
In the county seat of Pembroke, large sections of roof got torn off the courthouse and the entryway to a government building across was demolished. The storm destroyed at least 18 homes in the county and left more than 10 others with major damage, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Several people were injured, said Matthew Kent, a Bryan County government spokesperson.
Kemp toured the destruction Wednesday and said it was fortunate the twister did not stay on the ground very long, or the damage and loss of life would likely have been much worse. Places where it did touch down, he said, got hit hard.
“It is literally total devastation for some homes,” Kemp said. “We walked through a house where there’s no wood left on that house. It’s nothing but a foundation with a water heater sitting there.”
In South Carolina, about a dozen homes were destroyed or heavily damaged Tuesday in rural Allendale County. Tractors and other equipment were flipped and twisted on a number of farms in South Carolina’s least populated county. Other storms caused damage to solar panels near Bowman and flipped vehicles and shopping carts in a Walmart parking lot in Manning.
National Weather Service forecasters planned to survey damage from several possible tornadoes in Georgia and South Carolina, but said that effort could be interrupted by the potential for more storms Wednesday.
In Alabama, the weather service said it was sending survey teams to examine potential tornado damage in the Wetumpka area.
More than 7,000 customers in Texas and more than 3,000 in Georgia remained without power Wednesday afternoon, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide.