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Storms Kill Four, Damage Buildings Across Southern States

January 3, 2017

A powerful storm system that moved across the South on Jan. 2 killed four people in Alabama and left a trail of damage over several states, officials said.

The line of severe thunderstorms spawned several possible tornadoes, and the threat continued into early Jan. 3 for southern Alabama, southwest Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.

Four people were killed Jan. 2 when a tree fell on their mobile home in Rehobeth, Alabama, said Kris Ware, a spokeswoman for the Dothan Houston County Emergency Management Agency.

The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Houston County in the southern part of the state.

Local media outlets reported that emergency officials advised residents to stay in their homes and assess damage in the morning.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement on social media that the Houston County Sheriff had told him about the deaths and he offered “prayers for those impacted.”

In Georgia, some of the heaviest rains were expected late Monday night and into the overnight hours of early Jan. 3, forecasters said.

“There is a slight chance of damaging winds and tornadoes, however the highest probabilities are generally west of Interstate 75,” said Sid King, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Georgia, near Atlanta.

Parts of south Georgia could see as much as 3 inches of total rainfall from all the storms produced by the system now moving across southern states, King said.

State emergency officials reported no injuries or deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi, but a trip to Wal-Mart was memorable for some shoppers in Marksville, Louisiana, as severe weather blew out skylights in the store, sending water and glass cascading onto shoppers.

Marksville Fire Chief Jerry Bordelon said a fireworks stand in the Wal-Mart parking lot was tossed 30 or 40 yards and mangled.

The storm also knocked over 18-wheel truck trailers and punched holes in the Wal-Mart’s roof. The fire department ordered shoppers to leave the store, but some didn’t want to leave even as managers closed it.

“Believe it or not, we had some people in there who were still trying to shop,” Bordelon said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Erica Jones said the Arkansas-based company hopes to reopen the store Jan. 3, but isn’t sure that will happen, citing needed repairs to a natural gas line.

Storms in central Mississippi near Mendenhall and Mount Olive were preliminarily identified as tornadoes by the National Weather Service, based in part on radar signatures. Both storms damaged farm buildings and homes. Other possible tornadoes will be surveyed later.

In Louisiana, there was also relatively serious damage in the southwestern parishes of Beauregard and Allen, including the town of Reeves. Some wind damage was also reported in Houston and throughout East Texas.

Though Arkansas had also been included in warnings, there was only a stray report of hail in Jackson County in the northeast part of the state.

Tens of thousands lost power in Louisiana and Mississippi at the height of the storm, according to utilities.

Freddie Zeigler, a meteorologist in the Weather Service’s New Orleans office, said heavy winds were preceding the squall line, possibly contributing to power outages.

It was the second episode of heavy rain within days for some areas. An area stretching from Biloxi, Mississippi, through Alabama and across Macon and Augusta, Georgia, received more than four inches of rain, according to radar estimates.

Parts of southern Mississippi and southwest Alabama have received more than eight inches of rain since Dec. 31. Though rivers along the Gulf Coast were rising rapidly, only minor flooding was predicted.

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By JEFF AMY. AP writers Kim Chandler and Jeff Martin contributed

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