COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Weekend storms raked parts of the Southeast, leaving deaths and injuries in their wake as a tornado smashed into a commercial district in a small Mississippi city and drenching rains fed a rising flood threat.
A woman was killed when a tornado hit Columbus, Mississippi, and a man died when he drove into floodwaters in Tennessee, officials said.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith Sr. said 41-year-old Ashley Glynell Pounds of Tupelo and her husband were renovating a house Saturday evening, and when the husband went to get them something to eat, the building collapsed in the storm and killed her.
Smith said 12 other people were injured, but the injuries did not appear to be major. City spokesman Joe Dillon said the tornado also seriously damaged a school and two community center buildings.
“There was pretty extensive damage,” Dillon said Sunday, a day after the Columbus twister struck. “But the streets today have been filled with workers and volunteers, all working hard to clean up the mess.”
In Knox County, Tennessee, officials said a man died after his vehicle became submerged in high water.
Saturday afternoon’s tornado in Columbus was confirmed on radar, said meteorologist Anna Wolverton with the National Weather Service in Jackson. She told The Associated Press that experts were dispatched Sunday to the east Mississippi city of about 23,000 people to gauge the tornado’s intensity. Officials said a second, smaller twister damaged a mobile home and a shed and snapped trees in a small community in the region that same afternoon as severe storms rolled through.
At First Pentecostal Church in Columbus, the Rev. Steve Blaylock said the building was “a total loss,” with a wall pushed in, holes in the roof and substantial water damage. He and his congregants tried to salvage what they could on the morning after the storm. But he said they still held a Sunday prayer service and even went ahead with a scheduled baptism, using a borrowed portable baptismal pool.
“We will rebuild. We’ve got a good church here,” Blaylock said. “It’ll be a testimony of God.”
Residents of one street on the east side of Columbus were out early Sunday morning with chain saws, clearing away branches of the many trees that had snapped or were uprooted in the storm. Metal siding and roofing materials were scattered throughout the neighborhood of older homes. While the houses generally remained standing, sheds and outbuildings were mostly demolished.
Lee Lawrence, who said he has been selling used cars for decades in Columbus, told The AP that four buildings on his car lot were destroyed. He said trees toppled across vehicles and car windows were blown out.
Lawrence said he was at home getting ready to take a bath when the storm struck.
“The wind all of a sudden just got so strong and it was raining so much you could hardly see out the door, and I could hear a roaring. Evidently it came close,” he said, speaking with AP in a phone interview.
“It will be a start-over deal,” Lawrence said. “I can’t say it will come back better or stronger, but we’ll come back.”
A photographer working for The AP in Columbus said some antique cars on Lawrence’s lot were resting in the debris of a destroyed building a nearby pet grooming business appeared now to be mostly twisted piles of metal. A printing shop had been speared by a pipe.
Elsewhere around the South, homes, highways, parks and bridges were flooded or put out of commission amid the heavy rains and severe storms.
News outlets report that water rescues have been performed in some Middle Tennessee counties.
Interstate 40 near the Tennessee line with North Carolina was closed by a rockslide, one of the dozens of roads and highways shut down throughout the region, transportation officials said.
Officials said a mudslide destroyed a Subway restaurant in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. No injuries were reported.
In West Virginia, authorities have evacuated 11 families in the southern part of the state after low-lying areas flooded from heavy rains. Workers cleaned up from mudslides and high wind warnings remained in effect Sunday for much of the state. More than 50,000 customers were without power at one point, emergency officials said, warning driving would be difficult in high winds and more power lines could fall.
In Bruce, Mississippi, rivers broke flood stage and flash floods poured into homes and businesses. News outlets report that officials in Grenada, Mississippi, declared a local state of emergency after dozens of streets and homes flooded. A 6-mile (9-kilometer) stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway was closed in Mississippi after water covered part of the road.
Kentucky announced Friday that it was closing the U.S. 51 bridge over the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, because of flooding on the southern approach. The bridge, which carries 4,700 vehicles a day, is likely to stay closed until Thursday, and possibly longer.
The Ohio River at Cairo was predicted to crest Sunday at its third-highest level ever recorded, and stay that high into next week. The Tennessee River near Savannah, Tennessee, also was forecast to crest at near-record levels.
Associated Press writers Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this story, along with staff photographer Rogelio Solis and freelance photographer Jim Lytle working in Columbus, Mississippi.