Tornado Death Toll Rises To 17

Barry Mott, Dothan, Alabama 3/1/2007
Barry Mott, Dothan, Alabama 3/1/2007
Photo by Barry Mott, Alabama 3/1/2007
Photo by Barry Mott, Alabama 3/1/2007
Photos by John Dean, Alabama 3/1/2007
Photos by John Dean, Alabama 3/1/2007
A battered truck rests against a broken tree after a tornado touched down early Thursday near Caulfield, Missouri.
A battered truck rests against a broken tree after a tornado touched down early Thursday near Caulfield, Missouri.
Firefighter Rick Kelly scans debris from a demolished home in Baker County, Georgia, Friday.
Firefighter Rick Kelly scans debris from a demolished home in Baker County, Georgia, Friday.

Video and Pictures Provided By: WAFF, WTVM, WSFA, and WALB Raycom Media

Six more tornado-related deaths were reported in Georgia early Friday, bringing to 17 the number of fatalities blamed on a storm system that blasted the central and southeastern United States.

The storms killed nine people in Georgia, seven in Alabama and one in Missouri.

The six newly reported Georgia deaths occurred in Baker County, said Buzz Weiss of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Further details were not immediately available.

Elsewhere in Georgia, at least two people were killed and an unknown number injured when a tornado roared through the heart of Americus on Thursday evening, according to Sheriff Pete Smith. At least seven people were critically injured, he said.

The twister also slammed into the city's hospital, Sumter Regional Medical Center, shutting it down after staff treated patients in the immediate aftermath of the storm. All of the patients have since been transferred to other area hospitals.

The dead were killed elsewhere in the city, not at the hospital.

Americus lost its fleet of ambulances when the tornado hit the hospital, Weiss said. Ambulances from Albany, about 35 miles away, were sent to help.

The National Weather Service said the report of the Americus tornado came at 9:22 p.m. ET, 20 minutes after it issued a tornado warning for the area.

According to Smith, the city is under a curfew and school has been canceled for Friday. Search parties were going door-to-door.

A third person was killed and four were hurt when a tornado touched down in rural Taylor County near the southwest Georgia city of Albany, Weiss said.

One of the buildings destroyed in Americus was the local headquarters of the American Red Cross. A Red Cross official said the relief group also lost three disaster trailers, lights and generators that would have been used to respond to the disaster.

A shelter has been opened at the city's First Baptist Church. Smith said he expects 90 Georgia state troopers to be in the community of about 17,000 by sometime Friday morning.

'The whole building just collapsed'

In southeastern Alabama, a tornado Thursday afternoon killed seven people, five of them at Enterprise High School, said spokeswoman Tasamie Richardson.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed on Enterprise to help keep roads clear for emergency workers, who were working overnight to search the damaged buildings, Enterprise Mayor Kenneth Boswell said.

Students at Enterprise High School were taking cover when it was hit.

"The whole building just collapsed on everybody," said Chase Baldwin, a student at the school. "A bunch of people were trapped under cinder blocks, and people had their heads cut open."

There was one other death in Enterprise and one fatality in Wilcox County, where a number of homes were destroyed, Richardson said.

CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, in the area to cover a military story, said Enterprise was reeling from "utter devastation" as anguished parents rushed to the town's severely damaged high school.

"[There are] vehicles flipped over, houses gone. This huge brick and steel building [was] torn apart by the power of the storm," McIntrye said.

"You can see the grief on the faces of the people who come here," he added. "I saw one student walking away, being comforted by another student."

Laren Allgood, a reporter for the Enterprise Ledger, said the sprawling high school "looked like a bomb dropped on [it.] All the school buses are demolished."

Allgood said alarms alerted the town's 20,000 residents before the tornado hit. "We knew to take cover."

The National Weather Service reported a swath of damage about 200 yards wide in Enterprise.

"I heard rumbling," said Walt Thornton, who works at the Enterprise Municipal Airport. "I looked up to the southwest and saw ... a huge tornado going on in the valley behind some of our hangars."

A tornado was also reported in nearby Abbeville, in Henry County, Alabama, a spokesman for the Abbeville Police Department said. There were no reports of injuries.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley ordered the state's National Guard to send a contingent of 140 troops, including medics, MPs and roving security patrols, from Mobile to Enterprise. Their primary mission is security.

The National Guard has three CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopters, as well as an engineering unit on standby if needed for search and rescue or debris removal.

In addition, at least two UH-1 "Huey" medevac helicopters were sent from nearby Fort Rucker to the high school.

Riley also declared a state of emergency in the area.

President Bush was briefed on the storm while in New Orleans Thursday afternoon and again when he boarded Air Force One for the return flight to Washington. He telephoned Riley and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt en route.

"The president is deeply saddened to hear of the loss of life," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. "He is thinking about the families of the victims and the citizens of the states, and the administration stands ready to help."

One death in Missouri blamed on system

Earlier Thursday, a suspected tornado touched down at least twice in southern Missouri, leaving one person dead and four injured, according to Susie Stonner of the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

Dennis Crider, a journalist for the West Plains Quill, told CNN the fatality was a 7-year-old girl in the small community of Caulfield. Three of the injured were her father, mother and a brother, Crider quoted the Howell County sheriff as saying.

A gas station in Caulfield, about 15 miles west of West Plains, was destroyed by the storm, according to the assistant manager of a neighboring station.

"It's like a war zone down there," said Delora Murta.

The storm system apparently formed quickly.

"We had a spotter who watched [the tornado] form and dissipate in 10 minutes," said West Plains Emergency Management Coordinator Kent Edge.

The storm system hit northern Arkansas Thursday morning. Hail covered the ground, but there was no damage and officials do not believe a tornado touched down.

On the north side of the storm, blizzard-like conditions and heavy snow were hitting the states in the path of the system.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.