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6 dead, 'significant damage' reported after tornadoes rip through Alabama

A damaged car sits among the wreckage Thursday after a tornado hit Mount Vernon, Ala. Several tornadoes touched down across the state, causing significant damage and some minor injuries. Photo by Dan Anderson/EPA-EFE
A damaged car sits among the wreckage Thursday after a tornado hit Mount Vernon, Ala. Several tornadoes touched down across the state, causing significant damage and some minor injuries. Photo by Dan Anderson/EPA-EFE

Jan. 12 (UPI) -- At least six people are dead and major damage has been reported after several tornadoes tore across Alabama on Thursday, including one in the city of Selma, where residents were told to remain inside.

The National Weather Service issued several tornado warnings throughout the day, confirming touchdowns in various regions of the state, with the latest one confirmed moving through Barbour County at about 3:30 p.m. CST.

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"Those in the path of this storm ned to take shelter NOW!!!" the NWS tweeted.

The NWS had counted 34 reported tornados throughout the day in eastern United States, the majority of which occurred in Alabama with a few in Georgia and Kentucky.

"We'll have multiple damage survey teams in the field over the coming days," NWS Birmingham said Thursday night. "There's a lot of ground & damage to cover. We will release data as we are able to collect, assess & verify/QC."

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The effort to do so could take days, it said.

Gov. Kay Ivey has declared a state of emergency for the six counties of Autauga, Chambers, Coosa, Dallas, Elmore and Tallapoosa that were in "the path of Mother Nature's wrath," she said.

"I am sad to have learned that six Alabamians were lost to the storms that ravaged across our state," she said in a statement. "My prayers are with their loved ones and communities. We are far too familiar with devastating weather, but our people are resilient.

"We will get through it and be stronger for it."

Autauga County Sheriff David Hill confirmed to WSFA that the deaths occurred in his county, specifically in the Old Kingston area near county roads 40 and 21.

Searches were still underway, however, and the death toll may rise, he said.

Council members for the hard-hit city Selma held a Thursday night emergency meeting on the sidewalk by city hall and agreed to earmark $2 million from the budget surplus for disaster recovery. Some council members were unable to attend the meeting, officials said, due to their homes incurring extensive damage.

One of the day's larger tornados touched down in the city at about 12:20 p.m. CST, uprooting trees and downing power lines, resulting in "significant damage," Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. said during an earlier briefing.

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At the emergency council meeting, he said public house facilities took "some major hits" and that 10,000 customers were still without power, including the city center, which is down from 19,000 a few hours earlier.

The power outage is affecting water, he said, while encouraging the public to be "very intentional" with their use of the resource.

"We're not in trouble yet but all of this is really tied to and predicated on how fast we can get the power restored," he said.

"Citizens, please refrain from traveling the roadways and stay away from down power lines. City crews will be out as soon as practical to clean up. In the meantime, stay safe and continue to report your damages through 911," the city wrote in a Facebook message.

The first tornado to touch down in the state occurred at around 11 a.m. EST.

A Tornado Emergency was issued for Autauga County. just before 1 p.m. CST., The National Weather Service office in Birmingham issued the first such alert of the year, and first since early November, warning residents to take shelter immediately and that there was a "life-threatening situation."

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"This is a large and extremely dangerous tornado on the ground," the agency tweeted.

A Tornado Warning for parts of Clay County and Quitman County expired at 5:30 p.m. EST, according to the National Weather Service. A Tornado Watch remained in effect across five Alabama counties until 6 p.m. CST.

"And please be patient with us as we survey the damage and try to categorize something that may be difficult to describe," the agency said in a statement.

"There will be many long days ahead for everyone responding to the areas that experienced these storms, and even longer days for those directly impacted."

Several non-life-threatening injuries were also. Between 10 and 15 people were hurt in Morgan County, Ala., after they were hit by debris. Perkins said some injuries were also reported in Selma.

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