massive storm system whipping up severe winds and spawning tornadoes killed at least seven people in Georgia and Alabama on Thursday.
Authorities said a search for additional victims would come on Friday, when conditions were expected to clear.
Tens of thousands of customers were without power across the two states on Thursday night.
In Selma the city council used lights from cellphones as they held a meeting on the sidewalk to declare a state of emergency.
Six of the deaths were recorded Autauga County, Alabama, 41 miles northeast of Selma, where an estimated 40 homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado that cut a 20-mile path across two rural communities, said Ernie Baggett, the county’s emergency management director.
At least 12 people were injured severely enough to be taken to hospitals by emergency responders, Baggett told The Associated Press.
He said crews were focused Thursday night on cutting through downed trees to look for people who may need help.
“This is the worst that I’ve seen here in this county,” Baggett said of the damage.
In Georgia, a passenger died when a tree fell on a vehicle in Jackson, Butts County Coroner Lacey Prue said.
In the same county southeast of Atlanta, the storm appeared to have knocked a freight train off its tracks, officials said.
Officials in Griffin, south of Atlanta, told local news outlets that multiple people had been trapped inside an apartment complex after trees fell on it.
Nationwide, there were 33 separate tornado reports from the National Weather Service on Thursday, and Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina all saw tornado warnings for a time.
The tornado that hit Selma cut a wide path through the downtown area, where brick buildings collapsed, oak trees were uprooted, cars were on their side and power lines were left dangling.
Selma Mayor James Perkins said no fatalities have been reported, but several people were seriously injured. First responders were continuing to assess the damage and officials hoped to get an aerial view of the city Friday morning.
“We have a lot of downed power lines,” he said. “There is a lot of danger on the streets.”
Mattie Moore was among Selma residents who picked up boxed meals offered by a charity downtown.
“Thank God that we’re here. It’s like something you see on TV,” Moore said of all the destruction.
About 40,000 customers were without power in Alabama on Thursday night, according to PowerOutage.us, which tracks outages nationwide. In Georgia, about 86,000 customers were without electricity after the storm system carved a path across a tier of counties just south of Atlanta.
School systems in at least six Georgia counties canceled classes on Friday. Those systems enroll a total of 90,000 students.
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