ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. — A massive storm system raked the Southeast on Wednesday, generating tornadoes and dangerous winds that flipped cars on a major Georgia interstate, demolished homes and businesses and killed at least two people.
WSB-TV in Atlanta aired footage of an enormous funnel cloud bearing down on Adairsville where the storm ripped through the city’s downtown. Winds flattened homes and wiped out parts of a large manufacturing plant in the city about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. Pieces of insulation hung from trees and power poles, and a bank was missing a big chunk of its roof.
The storms were less intense in South Carolina, but they did cause some power outages, down trees, cause flooding in some areas and spawn tornado watches. (More details on Page A5)
In Adairsville, a 51-year-old man was killed when a tree crashed through the mobile home roof, and nine people were hospitalized for minor injuries, emergency management officials said. Residents said no traces remained of some roadside produce stands – a common sight on rural Georgia’s back roads. One other death was reported in Tennessee when an uprooted tree fell onto a storage shed where a man had taken shelter.
The storms tossed vehicles on Interstate 75 onto their roofs, closing the highway for a time.
The debris in one yard showed just how dangerous the storm had been: a bathtub, table, rolls of toilet paper and lumber lay in the grass next to what appeared to be a roof. Sheets of metal dangled from a large tree like ornaments.
“The sky was swirling,” said Theresa Chitwood, who owns the Adairsville Travel Plaza. She said she went outside to move her car because she thought it was going to hail. Instead, the storm decimated a building behind the plaza. Wind gusts were powerful enough to flip several tractor-trailers onto their sides in the parking lot.
Danny Odum and Rocky Depauw, truckers from Marion, Ill., had stopped for breakfast when the suspected tornado hit.
The pair had been driving their trucks through storm warnings all night long. They went inside to eat and Depauw got a weather alert on his phone. About two minutes later they saw debris flying through the parking lot and ran for an inner room.
“I’ve been stopping here for probably 40 years,” Odum said. “I just stopped and had breakfast this morning, and this happened.”
After it passed, Odum said he went outside to find his truck that was hauling diapers on its side with his dog Simon, a Boston terrier, still inside. Simon was scared but otherwise fine.
Depauw’s truck was parked next to Odum’s and was damaged but still upright. He speculated his heavy haul of cat litter may have helped his truck handle the hit better than his friend’s.
Partial flooding caused massive traffic jams along I-75 into Atlanta and blocked lanes and entrance ramps on four other highways Wednesday night, said state Department of Transportation spokesman David Spear.
Authorities were still investigating several sites to determine if damage was caused by twisters. Since Tuesday, the system had caused damage across a swath from Missouri to Georgia.
In recent days, the South and Midwest had enjoyed unseasonably balmy temperatures in the 60s and 70s. A system pulling warm weather from the Gulf of Mexico collided with a cold front moving in from the west, creating volatility.
In Tennessee, officials confirmed that a tornado with peak winds of 115 mph touched down in Mount Juliet. No serious injuries were reported even though the path of damage was about 150 yards wide. At least six other tornadoes were reported statewide.
At a shopping center in Mount Juliet, large sheets of metal littered the parking lot and light poles were knocked down.
One wall of a Dollar General store collapsed, and the roof was torn off.
Mark Fulks Jr. runs Mark’s Automotive with his father in a building attached to the Dollar General. The garage door was blown off his shop and sitting on one of the cars inside, and Fulks said several of the cars they were working on had their windshields blown out.
The deaths ended the nation’s longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed records began being kept in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. The last one was June 24 in Florida. That was 220 days ago as of Tuesday.
The last day with multiple fatalities was June 4, when three people were killed in Missouri.
In South Carolina
Heavy rains and high winds hit the Midlands on Wednesday night and more heavy rain and possibly severe storms were possible overnight. About 150 Midlands SCE&G customers were without power at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
A number of Columbia area school districts canceled after-school and evening activities on Wednesday and a downed tree closed a portion of Colonial Drive for a time Wednesday afternoon.
There were scattered outages in the Upstate, along with downed trees and some flooding. The brunt of the storm hit North Carolina.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for Richland, Lexington and Kershaw counties effective until 1 a.m. today. A watch means conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornado development.
The system was expected to move off the coast overnight and temperatures were likely to drop dramatically.
The National Weather Service forecast for Richland and Lexington counties today calls for sunny and breezy conditions with highs in the mid 50s and lows tonight in the 30s. Winds of 15-20 mph are likely during the day, tapering off to 10 mph tonight.
Joey Holleman and Rachael Myers Lowe contributed.