Storms kill at least two in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama Mon Jan 23, 2012 3:32pm EST

1 of 3. Jefferson County road crews clear Tyler Loop Road in the Paradise Valley area of Clay Chalkville, Alabama, after the area was hit by tornadoes early January 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Marvin Gentry

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - Search and rescue team combed through debris in Alabama after powerful thunderstorms pummeled the state early Monday, killing at least two people and leaving heavy damage just hours after tornadoes struck portions of Arkansas.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency after the predawn storms struck the Birmingham area, with the towns of Center Point and Trussville just to the northeast of the city hit particularly hard.

Two people were confirmed dead, according to Pat Curry, Jefferson County's chief deputy coroner, one in Clay, a city of roughly 10,000 people, and another in the western part of the county.

Earlier, an emergency management official had reported three deaths.

"We have major, major damage," said Bob Ammons, a Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency official, referring to Center Point, Trussville and some unincorporated areas of the county.

About 100 people were treated for injuries, said Jefferson County EMA spokesman Mark Kelly.

Last April, massive tornadoes tore through Alabama killing more than 240 people including 64 fatalities in the Jefferson and Tuscaloosa areas.

On Monday, in St. Clair County, Alabama, spokeswoman Katie Reese said a local fire department estimated some 36 homes were damaged, and some of them were destroyed.

The possibility for sporadic thunderstorms in the region lingered, according to AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Henry Margusity, but overall the severe weather was calming down.

Clean-up and recovery efforts were under way across Alabama Monday afternoon.

Food safety inspectors had been dispatched to assess damage and power outages at retail food establishments, state officials said, adding that any compromised products would be taken off shelves.

Search and rescue efforts were ongoing, according to Matt Angelo of the Center Point fire department. The injury count in that area northeast of Birmingham remained at about 12, he said.

At nearby Parkway Veterinary Clinic animals were being transported to a safe location after the structure sustained a direct hit during the storm, a spokeswoman said.

Earlier, rescue crews were dispatched to investigate reports of an overturned mobile home with people trapped inside, said Debbie Orange, city clerk for the city of Clanton, about midway between Birmingham and Montgomery. No injuries could be confirmed.

A preliminary report from the weather service's storm prediction center indicated a radio station in Clanton, Alabama was destroyed and a 302-foot transmission tower "toppled" due to the severe weather.

A tornado is suspected, but not yet confirmed, in the radio station destruction, according to the National Weather Service.

In Tennessee, the worst storm damage was in the middle of the state, with downed trees and power lines. In western Tennessee, structural damage resulted from winds whipping up to 65 miles per hour, meteorologists said.

These were the latest in a series of powerful January storms to have torn through the Southeast.

On Sunday, twisters downed trees and powerlines in Arkansas leaving thousands without power.

A tornado ripped into an area outside of Fordyce, some 70 miles south of state capital Little Rock, damaging houses and felling trees and power lines as it moved, according to Accuweather.com.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock rated the Fordyce area tornado as an EF2, on a scale that ranges from EF0 to EF5, the most severe. The town of just under 5,000 people was one of the hardest hit areas in a series of storms that struck Arkansas Sunday night.

Significant damage occurred to houses northwest of the small town, the city's country club and a set of transmission towers, it said in a statement.

The weather service has reported as many as eight possible tornadoes may have touched down Sunday night in Arkansas, which was pelted by soft-ball sized hailstones and buffeted by winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour.

By Monday, less than 8,000 customers across Arkansas were still without power, according to utility provider Entergy Arkansas, Inc.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville, Suzi Parker in Little Rock and Kelli Dugan in Mobile, Alabama; Writing by Dan Burns and Lauren Keiper; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Greg McCune)

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