published Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Severe weather flips cars, rips roofs in Southeast

  • photo
    A man wades through water to get to his truck during street flooding in the Mid City section of New Orleans, due to heavy thunderstorms that came through the area Wednesday morning, March 9, 2011, dumping as much as four inches of rain in one hour. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

JAY REEVES, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Winds whipped by a line of severe weather tore roofs off buildings, overturned cars and caused minor injuries as the system trudged across the Southeast on Wednesday.

Two apparent tornadoes damaged buildings near Mobile in southwest Alabama, hours after several tornadoes were reported to the west in Louisiana. The system also dumped 7 inches of rain in parts of Mississippi and spawned thunderstorms in Tennessee that ripped off part of a school's roof.

In Alabama, authorities said only three minor injuries were reported despite the destruction.

"It's very fortunate judging from the extent of some of the damage," said John Kilcullen, operations director for the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.

Ambulances, police cars and fire trucks with flashing lights descended on the Theodore area near Mobile after the storm struck about 8:45 a.m. CST, overturning vehicles, nearly demolishing a gas station, knocking down power lines and causing ammonia and natural gas leaks.

Evelyn Thibeault said she saw a twister go by her business, Theodore Mail Ship and More.

"My front door flew open and a plant flew across the floor. Everything just turned white. BP is just gone. It's horrible," said Thibeault, breathing hard during a telephone interview. "It hit a hardware store, a little country music place they have. We're all still nervous and shook up."

Later, across Mobile Bay in Baldwin County, a possible tornado damaged several homes and businesses in Silverhill.

Torrential rains caused flooding across a wide area of the state, and Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency. Damage was reported in 17 counties by midday.

At least three tornadoes touched down in southeastern Louisiana on the heels of Mardi Gras season, which ended Tuesday night. A twister that hit Bush damaged a car, truck, home and trailer and left a woman with a cut on her head, officials said.

The National Weather Service also reported tornadoes in Kenner, where no damage was reported, and around Lacombe, where a roof was torn off a house.

In the village of Tangipahoa, authorities used boats and pickup trucks to evacuate a mobile home park after heavy rains caused a creek to overflow its banks, flooding about 20 to 30 homes. About 130 people were displaced, with 19 spending the night in a shelter, said Tangipahoa Parish spokesman Jeff McKneely.

A thunderstorm in eastern Tennessee tore a section of roof from Camp Creek Elementary School on Wednesday morning, The Greeneville Sun reported. No injuries were reported and there were no children at the school yet.

Some buildings in Mississippi have also been damaged, but no deaths or injuries were reported there.

Flash flood warnings were in effect in southeast Mississippi, and roads in several counties were flooded.

"Flooding is going to persist in some areas for a few days as water filters down into the larger rivers and waterways," said Daniel Lamb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson.

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