THE death toll from deadly storms which ripped across the deep south of the US rose to 17 yesterday. Two families each saw three family members killed.
Vicious storms smacked the southern US and toppled trees like dominoes as tornadoes howled through towns. Four deaths were reported in Alabama, including a man who was killed when the storm tossed a mobile home nearly a quarter of a mile across a state highway.
Combined with earlier reported fatalities in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the confirmed death toll has now risen to 17 -- the deadliest storm of the season so far.
Autauga County Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Sedinger said three adult members of the same family were killed at around 11pm on Friday when a tornado ripped through homes in the Boone's Chapel community, 24 miles north of Montgomery, the capital of Alabama.
"The tornado hit and jumped and hit and jumped again," Mr Sedinger said. "It would do some damage and then move on."
A mother and two children were among those reported killed in Washington County in southern Alabama.
The system showed no mercy on Mississippi either as it rolled eastward, damaging or destroying dozens of homes, businesses and churches. Crews worked to clear roads, find shelter for displaced families and restore power to thousands.
In Marengo County in west-central Alabama, four separate tornadoes hit over the span of about five to six hours, emergency management director Kevin McKinney said. "They weren't simultaneous, they were back-to-back," he said.
The mobile home that had been tossed was a pile of rubble, along with another 30 homes or businesses that were destroyed, Mr McKinney said. Four people had minor injuries.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency for the entire state.
The storms began late last Thursday in Oklahoma, where at least five tornadoes touched down and two people were killed. The system then pushed into Arkansas, killing seven more. Dozens of others were hurt. By midday on Friday, the storms had moved into Tennessee, Louisiana and later into Georgia. At least three twisters touched down in Mississippi, where a state of emergency was declared in 14 counties.
The hardest hit was Clinton, a city of 26,000 people just west of Jackson, the state capital. At least seven people were taken by ambulance to hospital with serious injuries.