BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Storms that left splintered homes and broken trees across Alabama and Mississippi moved east Thursday, forcing a TV newscast out of their studio for a few minutes, but largely sparing the Atlantic Coast states any significant damage.
There were scary moments. In High Point, North Carolina, WGHP-TV meteorologist Van Denton ordered everyone off the se t during the 5 p.m. broadcast and into a makeup room for a few minutes after a storm with a tornado warning moved right over the station.
“I’ve never heard the roof rattle like that. We've never had to leave the studio during a broadcast," said anchor Neill McNeill, who has been with the station 37 years.
But no serious damage or injuries were immediately reported in North Carolina from the storms near High Point and Charlotte, which both had tornado warnings.
In southwest Alabama, at least two people were hurt Wednesday, when a tornado destroyed a house. Pieces of homes and twisted metal laid amid broken trees in the hardest-hit areas, but no one died and the region appeared to escape the kind of horrific toll many feared after ominous predictions of monster twisters and huge hail.
“Overall, we have a lot to be grateful for, as it could have been much worse,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.
Forecasters issued a string of tornado warnings Thursday morning around the region where Alabama, Georgia and Florida intersect, but there were no immediate reports of major damage.
Forecasters worried the storms would intensify as they move into South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday afternoon, but they mostly stayed below severe limits.
In South Carolina, the severe weather threat led the state Senate president to caution senators to stay home Thursday while urging staff to work remotely for their safety. House Speaker Jay Lucas kept his promise from the day before to meet less than an hour Thursday so members could beat the severe storms home.
The forecast led a number of the state’s school systems to call off in-person classes Thursday and have students and teachers meet online.
The metro Atlanta area was pelted by heavy rain with intense lightning and strong wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph). Morehouse College tweeted that it was delaying the opening of its campus until 11 a.m. and that faculty and staff should not arrive until after that time. All classes before then were to be held virtually, it said.
On Wednesday, possible tornadoes in Alabama knocked down trees, toppled power lines and damaged homes. Some of the worst problems were in rural Clarke County, where authorities said two people were hurt when a home was destroyed and several others were damaged.
Between Montgomery and Birmingham in Chilton County, a storm destroyed at least three homes and roofs were yanked off houses in Moundville, south of Tuscaloosa. “There’s a lot of trees down. I guess it had to be a tornado; it got out of here pretty fast,” said Michael Brown, whose family owns Moundville Ace Hardware and Building.
Additional damage was reported in Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi, where video showed an apparent tornado at Brookhaven. High winds blew down signs and trees in northeast Texas, and hailstones the size of baseballs were reported near the Alabama-Mississippi line, the weather service said.
More than 70,000 homes and businesses were without power at one point from Texas to Alabama, which was under a state of emergency, and communities across the South used social media to share the location of tornado shelters.
Associated Press writers Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.