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Storms, tornadoes carve a path of destruction through the South

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: The storm's two-day death toll rises to 10
  • NEW: Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma declare states of emergencies
  • "Extensive damage" is reported in Clinton, Mississippi
  • The storm threatens tens of thousands of fans at Talladega speedway

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(CNN) -- Powerful storms and tornadoes barrelled through Mississippi, Alabama and moved into Georgia on Friday, toppling trees, snapping power lines and raising the storm's two-day death toll to 10.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency Friday after reports of tornado touchdowns in at least six counties. He said that multiple injuries were reported in Sumter, Greene and Marengo counties and that one fatality was confirmed in Marengo County. Nine other deaths were previously reported in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

"This is a serious storm that has already caused significant damage across the South. I hope Alabamians take extreme caution while these storms move through," Bentley said in a statement.

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin similarly ordered states of emergency Friday for 14 Mississippi counties and 26 Oklahoma counties, respectively. Fallin is expected to tour the damaged area Saturday.

Video shows tornado on the ground
Tree falls on car, smashing it in half
Deadly tornado slams southeast Oklahoma
  • Tornadoes
  • Oklahoma
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama

The National Weather Service reported a very large tornado on the ground in Washington County, in southern Alabama. It was located about nine miles east of Leakesville, Mississippi, and moving east at about 35 miles per hour Friday night.

The city of Clinton, Mississippi, suffered "extensive damage" when a tornado touched down, according to Mississippi's Emergency Management Agency.

The city's mayor said no one was injured in the storm, which tore the roof from a hotel and caused major damage to a bank and numerous homes. It narrowly missed an elementary school and a church daycare center packed with about 650 children between them, she added.

"We have a lot to be grateful for," Mayor Rosemary Aultman said. "It could have been a lot worse."

The storm also tossed cars on Interstate 20, Aultman said. The interstate remained closed Friday afternoon, according to the Emergency Management Agency.

The tornado in Clinton was one of several reported Friday in Mississippi and Alabama that cut a wide path of destruction.

CNN affiliate WAPT in Jackson, Mississippi, showed video of the destroyed home of a teacher at Hinds Community College.

Several of her students were at the house, helping to clean and salvage what they could from the wreckage.

"I've never seen anything like this," said one student. "My heart dropped because it hurt me to see my teacher's home like this. ... I know it's hurting her, but she's being strong about it."

Numerous power poles were snapped in Jackson along the storm's path, leaving more than 23,400 customers without power, utility company Entergy Mississippi said.

Choctaw County Sheriff Todd Kemp reported structural damage and trees down near the site of a tornado in State Line, Mississippi.

Elsewhere in Alabama, a tornado emergency was issued for the towns of Geiger, Panola, New West Green, and Pleasant Ridge, according to the National Weather Service. It said storm spotters were tracking a large and dangerous tornado that was a half mile wide and located about 23 miles northwest of Livingston Friday afternoon.

The weather service also said it had received a report of a tornado near Melvin, Alabama, that may have caused damage to the Hunt Oil Refinery there. A company spokeswoman said no damage had occurred there, however.

Tornadoes also were reported near Linden in Alabama and in or near the cities of Loper, Madden, Mount Sterling and Ludlow in Mississippi, according to the weather service.

It predicted a continued threat of thunderstorms and tornadoes in parts of the Southeast and Midwest through Saturday as the storms moved northeast.

Of immediate concern were the tens of thousands of fans gathered for a weekend of races at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, which was under a tornado watch until 9 p.m.

Some 30,000 people were camped out, some in tents, on the infield of the speedway, said Steve Dover, spokesman for the Talladega County Emergency Management Agency. Thousands more were seated in the grandstands, he said.

Fans have been asked to secure anything that could become flying debris, make plans for evacuating in the event of bad weather and to monitor weather reports, Dover said. If the need arises, he added, authorities would open up traffic lanes leading into the track to speed evacuations, but he said there's little shelter at the track itself.

"There's no shelter big enough to put 100,000 people, of course," he said.

Cody Buchanan was one of the many fans determined to ride out the storm.

"If it gets bad, we'll just take everything down," he told CNN affiliate WBMA. "We're going to get inside the camper and hold on."

In Georgia, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for the western and northern parts of the state, predicting hail, dangerous lightning and possible wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour. It issued a tornado warning Friday night for northern metro Atlanta, meaning that a tornado may already be on the ground or is expected to develop shortly.

The storms were the latest in a round of severe weather that has hit parts of the Midwest and South since Thursday, when nine people died in Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to state and local authorities.

The storm left a trail of downed trees and power lines, scattered cars and crushed homes as it moved east. It killed two people in the southeastern Oklahoma town of Tushka, where authorities say a tornado touched down Thursday night. It also left seven dead when trees fell on homes in five incidents in Arkansas, authorities said.

In the most recent discovery, rescue crews found a 34-year-old woman lying in bed with her 7-year-old child, whom she had apparently come to comfort during the overnight storm, said Little Rock Fire Department Capt. Randy Davenport.

The two were killed by a giant oak tree that fell on the home, Davenport said. An 18-month-old child in another bedroom survived.

Other victims were a 24-year-old man and an 18-month-old girl who died when a tree fell on their mobile home while they were sleeping in Garland County, Arkansas, the sheriff's office there said.

"It was terrifying, seeing that this could happen to anybody," Zach Kelly told CNN affiliate KTHV. "There are so many trees around this neighborhood and it was just a scary thought walking over here that this could happen to any family here, including mine."

In Bald Knob, Arkansas, a 6-year-old boy died when a tree fell on his house, KTHV reported. A man died in Scott, Arkansas, when a tree fell into his recreational vehicle, crushing him, according to police. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management also reported a death from a falling tree in St. Francis County.

In Oklahoma, in addition to the two deaths, the storm caused 43 injuries and extensive property damage in Tushka, about 125 miles south of Tulsa. The state Department of Emergency Management said a "relatively large" tornado sliced through the area around Tushka, where more than 100 structures were destroyed, including the town's only school.

"There's a tremendous amount of property damage," said Capt. Jeff Sewell with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. "Cars have been blown together. A lot of electric wires are down all over the place. Several houses were totally destroyed."

Damage was also reported in the city of Hominy, in the Allen and Stonewall areas of Pontotoc County, and in the Madill area, the state Department of Emergency Management said.

South of Stonewall, a mobile home's roof was blown off and three other homes also lost their roofs, the department said. A tree fell on a car, and softball-sized hail was reported near Hickory.

CNN's Ed Payne contributed to this report.