Storms strike college, leave trail of damage across South

Storms strike college, leave trail of damage across South

March 20th, 2018 by Brynn Anderson and Jay Reeves, Associated Press/Staff Writer Ben Benton in Breaking News

Brian Smith, a student at Jacksonville State University, carries his belongings out of his apartment, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, after a violent storm went swept through Jacksonville, Ala., the night before. Smith said he was forced to climb out of his apartment with a sheet connected to a metal rail fence to get out safely from the second floor. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

This story was updated March 20, 2018, at 9:59 p.m. with more information.

Rusty walks among debris in northern Limestone County, near Ardmore, Ala., Tuesday, March 20, 2018, after a violent storm went swept through the area the night before. (Jeronimo Nisa/The Decatur Daily via AP)

Rusty walks among debris in northern Limestone County,...

Photo by Jeronimo Nisa

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — With violent weather plowing through the Southeast, the kitchen windows exploded at Richard Brasher's home in eastern Alabama.

Using couch cushions for protection, Brasher hid in the bathtub with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren as the storm passed near Jacksonville State University. The roar was terrifying, Brasher said: "I thought we were gone," he said.

Officials suspected a tornado was to blame for the damage there. With electrical transformers exploding and trees crashing down all around, Brasher, 60, said it felt like wind "picked up and shook the whole house."

"We were scared to death. It blew the paint off my house," he said.

The storm threatened millions of people across the Deep South, prompting tornado warnings Monday in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The area around Jacksonville State University in Alabama was among the hardest hit and thousands of buildings and vehicles were battered by large hail after the night of violent weather.

Most of the Chattanooga area was spared heavy wind or hail damage, but there were scattered electrical outages due to wind-downed trees and power lines, especially in Dade County, Ga., where a few folks were still without power Tuesday morning.

Two cars are turned over in front of a storm damaged apartment complex, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, after a violent storm went through Jacksonville, Ala., Monday night. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Two cars are turned over in front of...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

WRCB meteorologist David Karnes' said falling temperatures Tuesday, the first day of spring, and showers overnight could mean some area residents waking up today to snow showers and possible icy areas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center reports on Monday's storm system indicated quarter-sized hail was seen in Dade County along Brow Road and Saddle Club Road, a few miles northwest of Trenton.

Georgia Power's outage map Tuesday morning showed fewer than a handful of customers were still without power in the area with the reported hail damage in Dade, as well as about nine homes along U.S. Highway 11 north of Rising Fawn. News partner WRCB-TV Channel 3 reported that as many as 295 North Georgia Power customers were without power at around 10:30 p.m. Monday.

EPB's power map Tuesday morning showed no outages remaining, and there were only three reported at the time of the storms, spokesman John Pless said.

"In terms of our system, I don't think we had a whole heck of a lot," Pless said. Three customers were without power around 6:30 p.m. Monday but the reasons were possibly unrelated to the weather, he said.

In Alabama, several shelters opened, schools were closed, trees and power lines were down Tuesday morning. Jacksonville State officials advised people to avoid traveling near campus. Most students were away for spring break.

Part of the roof was ripped off the nursing school and Pete Mathews Coliseum, a 3,500-seat basketball arena. Pieces of lumber and bent metal covered the ground along with insulation that looked like yellow cotton candy.

To the west in Cullman, the lots of automobile dealerships were full of cars and trucks that no longer had windows. The sheriff shared a photo of a county jail bombarded by hail but said the prisoners were fine.

Schools were closed in several counties because of damage. Alabama Power Co. said more than 9,000 homes and businesses were without electricity.

Forecasters had warned that the storms would threaten more than 29 million people, raising the risk of powerful tornadoes, damaging winds and hail the size of tennis balls.

Cities in northern Alabama reported power outages, and the National Weather Service in Huntsville reported at least three confirmed tornadoes in the area.

Friends and family help homeowners Michael and Phyllis Shell collect items from their home after a possible tornado destroyed it on Gatlin Road in Ardmore, Ala., Monday, March 19, 2018. Severe storms that spawned tornadoes damaged homes and downed trees as they moved across the Southeast on Monday night. (Crystal Vander Weit/The Decatur Daily via AP)

Friends and family help homeowners Michael and Phyllis...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The National Weather Service said five teams were out in Alabama Tuesday assessing storm damage.

The weather service was also sending survey crews to at least two Georgia communities to investigate whether tornadoes caused widespread damage to homes there.

In one neighborhood near Atlanta, "it looks like someone did a bombing run down the street," Georgia's insurance commissioner, Ralph Hudgens, said after touring the scene Tuesday. Multiple homes were destroyed in the subdivision southwest of Atlanta, he said.

"I talked to people who were in bed when it hit, and they huddled in the bathroom with the Bible, praying," Hudgens said. "They put the Bible against the door and they put the children in the tub. They held hands and prayed and asked the Lord to protect them. Nothing happened to them but the house was totally destroyed."

More damage was reported in Haralson, Ga., about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta. The Haralson County School District said schools would be closed Tuesday due to storm damage "throughout our community."

The same storm system that battered Alabama and Georgia was taking aim Tuesday at a large part of Florida and coastal communities in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Much of north Florida and the entire Georgia and South Carolina coasts would be at an "enhanced" risk for severe storms Tuesday, which could include damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes, the National Storm Prediction Center. A small part of the North Carolina coastline was also included in the area most likely to see severe weather.

The area most at risk for Tuesday's storms is heavily populated, with more than 10 million people and major Florida cities such as Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C.

Staff writer Ben Benton contributed to this story.

Jay Reeves reported from Birmingham. Mallory Moench in Montgomery, Ala.; and Jeff Martin and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.