Deadly tornadoes roared through Alabama and Georgia Thursday, tossing cars and trucks around like toys, killing five people, injuring nearly 70 others and leaving thousands without power and 'too scared to go anywhere.'
Heavy rains and thunderstorms that began Wednesday spawned dozens of tornadoes in Alabama by Thursday morning, including one that picked up 30 cars and trucks on a highway and hurled them into a 'mass tangulation.'
Officials said 30 people were injured by the Montgomery tornado, which killed four people trapped in their vehicles and one person in an adjacent neighborhood.
At least 37 people were injured in Georgia, including six cut by flying glass as four tornadoes shattered the windows in Atlanta skyscrapers. Georgia Power officials worked to restore electricity to 110,000 customers and said some areas might be without power for three days.
Alabama Gov. George Wallace declared a state of emergency and asked President Reagan to declare the state a disaster area.
A trucker whose 18-wheeler was blown away in the funnel cloud that set down on the four-lane Northern Bypass highway in Montgomery said the twister tore out the seat of his pants.
'I don't know whether I was blown away from the truck or whether the truck was blown away from me. It was a mess,' said Amos Garmon. 'The seat of my britches was out. It just about tore my clothesoff e.'
Police officers used long sticks probed the swampy area next to the road, trying to determine if bodies were thrown into the morass, but by late Thursday night none had been found.
Spokesmen said 17 people were taken to Baptist Medical Center in Montgomery and 13 to Jackson Hospital.
'The injuries range from lacerations and bumps and bruises to very serious injuries,' said Baptist spokesman Gene Hannah. 'We've got three patients in surgery. We've got one patient who had a coronary.'
The tornado struck the highway about 7 a.m. CDT, shortly before rush hour and police spokesman Maj. John Wilson said cars and trucks on the four-lane Northern Bypass were thrown into a 'mass tangulation of vehicles.'
Ronald Jackson, 21, said he was driving down Northern Bypass when 'the wind picked up and things started blowing around. Juts before we pulled over I saw it coming from the southwest. I was scared as hell.
Jackson, who suffered contusions and lacerations, said his car was 'turned over in the ditch and picked up and dropped again.'
'I was screaming 'Make it stop'' he said. He said he saw cars 'in trees and in ditches' after the tornado passed.
Three twisters hit Talladega, including one downtown that tore the roof from a building and shattering windows. Police said 11 people were injured by falling debris and another injury was reported when the storm hit a school outside of town.
At the Jacksonville, Ala., airport a small twister toppled several planes.
In Georgia, officials said at least 34 people were injured in dozens of tornadoes.
'We had heavy hail and a lot of wind and rain,' said Tiddie Pelote in Statesboro, where 40 homes were destroyed. 'It was the biggest hail I've ever seen. It looked kind of flat, like ice out of an ice machine.
'We're just sitting here because we're too scared to go anywhere,' she said.
Six people were cut by flying glass as four tornadoes knocked the windows out of skyscrapers in Atlanta. At least three children were temporarily trapped under trees pulled up by their roots and strewn throughout the city.
Roofs were blown off two buildings at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport in Atlanta and 13 planes were damaged, some of them seriously, said spokesman Doc Manget.
'They were all tied down, but the winds just absolutely broke the ropes,' Manget said. 'About four of them were flipped over on their backs and some of them were blown into other airplanes.'
He estimated the damage at more than $1 million.
Officials in Statesboro said at least 28 people from surrounding areas were taken to hospital with injuries sustained when numerous twisters touched down there. About 40 homes and trailer homes were destroyed.
'The Red Cross is on the way,' said one official. 'They will help set up shelters for the people.
The high winds continued out into the Atlantic Thursday nigh and sank a 48-foot fishing boat participating in the Hilton Head Island Billfish tournament about 93 miles southeast of Savannah. Eight people were aboard and all were safely rescued.