By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) – Powerful tornadoes tore through Alabama on Thursday, killing at least three people in the northeast and injuring dozens of others and destroying homes and other structures south of Birmingham.
Three deaths were confirmed in Ohatchee, Alabama, about 60 miles northeast of Birmingham, a spokeswoman for Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency said. Others remained missing.
In the northwest a Florence, Alabama, police officer was struck by lighting from the same storm system as he set up road barriers, the police department there said. The officer was
“conscious and responsive” at North Alabama Medical Center, Florence police said on Twitter.
“Significant and dangerous weather continues to impact portions of Alabama, and I urge all folks in the path of these tornadoes and storm systems to remain on high alert,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement posted to social media.
“Tragically, we are receiving reports of loss of life. I offer my sincerest prayers to all impacted. Unfortunately, the day is not over yet. Y’all, please stay safe and vigilant!” Ivey said.
The news website Al.com said “multiple injuries” had been suffered in Shelby County, southeast of Birmingham, but the number and extent of the wounded was unclear shortly before 6 p.m. local time.
“Shelby County has suffered significant tornado damage. We can confirm local residential structures have been completely destroyed,” Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego said in a written statement given to Al.com
“Our priority at the moment is identifying those citizens in need of emergency medical attention. We will then work with our partnering agencies to provide needed resources to our residents who are displaced. This search and outreach effort will continue throughout the night and into the early morning hours,” Samaniego said.
Several hours after the destruction the Jefferson County Sheriff alerted residents that another twister had struck there.
“Jefferson County now has a CONFIRMED tornado on the ground. It is currently located in the area of I-59 and 459. SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY,” the sheriff’s department said on Twitter.
The National Weather Service issued tornado watches for much of the northern region of the state.
Residents of Pelham, a city of roughly 21,000 people about 20 miles (32 km) south of Birmingham, were also told to take shelter as a “second round” was expected, Al.com reported.
Utility lines were downed along Highways 119 and 31 in northern Pelham, Pelham police said in a second tweet and images posted on social media showed damaged homes and trees and power lines that had been knocked down.
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