published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Reported tornadoes hit Alabama homes, prison

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Reported tornadoes destroyed several houses and hit a maximum security prison in northern Alabama as bad weather threatened more twisters across the region Friday, two days after a storm system killed 13 people in the Midwest and South.

Huntsville police spokesman Harry Hobbs said people have been injured in Madison County and were being taken to hospitals in the area. He did not know the extent of the injuries, or how many people were hurt.

Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Office says ambulances were responding to neighborhoods near Huntsville. Madison County emergency managers said several houses were "leveled" in one neighborhood in the Walker Lane area.

WAFF-TV aired video of crushed homes outside Huntsville. The station also reported that storms caused extensive damage in the small community of Meridianville, where people were trapped in cars.

A state maximum security prison about 10 miles from Huntsville was also hit by a reported tornado, but the inmates remained secured, according to Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett. He said there were no reports of injuries but the roof was damaged on two large prison dormitories that each hold about 250 men.

"It was reported you could see the sky through the roof of one of them," Corbette said.

A portion of the prison fence was knocked down by the storm but the prison was secure and no one had escaped, he said.

The Limestone Correctional Facility in Capshaw, 10 miles west of Huntsville, houses 2,388 inmates, including more than 200 inmates who have tested positive for HIV and are kept segregated. The prison, which opened in 1984, has 90 acres within its perimeter fence. The prison has a total of 1,600 acres, which includes a farming and cattle operation, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Forecasters warned of severe thunderstorms with the threat of tornadoes crossing a region from southern Ohio through much of Kentucky into Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

Thousands of Alabama schoolchildren were getting out of class early Friday because the threat of tornadoes and other severe weather across the northern half of the state.

More than 20 school systems say they are dismissing classes early Friday because of the possibility of severe storms. Otherwise, the bad weather could hit around the time schools normally dismiss for the day, based on predictions from the National Weather Service.

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