A giant, swirling storm system billowing across the South spurred a tornado on Thursday that shredded the walls of homes, toppled roofs and uprooted trees in Selma, Alabama, a city etched in the history of the Civil Rights movement.
The “large and extremely dangerous tornado” caused damage as it moved through the historic city, the National Weather Service said.
There were no immediate reports of deaths, but the weather service said there were confirmed reports of tree and structural damage in Selma and reports of damage in other counties.
There is damage “all over Selma,” former state Sen. Hank Sanders said he has been told.
“A tornado has definitely damaged Selma. In fact, it hit our house, but not head-on. It blew out windows in the bedroom and in the living room. It is raining through the roof in the kitchen,” Sanders said.
Selma, a city of about 18,000 residents, is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of the Alabama capital city of Montgomery.
Selma was a flashpoint of the Civil Rights movement. Alabama state troopers viciously attacked Black people advocating for voting rights as they marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. Among those beaten by law officers was John Lewis, whose skull was fractured. He went on to a long and distinguished career as a U.S. congressman.
Selma Mayor James Perkins told WSFA that least one person was believed trapped in a building on Broad Street and possibly one other person is missing. There are multiple downed powerlines, and it is considered an emergency situation.
The outer skin of a two-story building was shredded by the storm, photos from The Selma Times-Journal showed. Huge pieces of insulation and metal were wrapped around the trunk of a tree, and fallen tree branches obscured a sign that proclaims “WELCOME TO HISTORIC SELMA.”
Malesha McVay drove parallel to the tornado with her family. She says it got less than a mile from her home before suddenly turning.
“We stopped and we prayed. We followed it and prayed,” she said. “It was a 100% God thing that it turned right before it hit my house.”
She took video of the giant twister, which would turn black as it swept away home after home.
“It would hit a house and black smoke would swirl up,” she said. “It was very terrifying.”
The weather service had issued a tornado emergency for several counties just north of the capital city of Montgomery as the same storm system moved eastward. “This is a life-threatening situation. Take shelter immediately,” the Weather Service said of the reported tornado.
There were multiple tornado warnings issued Thursday in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee as the storm system moved through the region.
In Kentucky, the National Weather Service in Louisville confirmed that an EF-1 tornado struck Mercer County and said crews were surveying damage in a handful of other counties. There were reports of downed trees, power outages and other scattered damage from storms that moved through the state.