Deadly storms moving across the southern United States produced a Christmas Day tornado that struck a small community just outside Birmingham, Alabama. On Christmas Eve, other parts of the southern United States were also hit with unusual winter tornadoes causing 15 deaths and sending multiple people to the hospital.
On Christmas Day, a tornado touched down less than 10 miles from downtown Birmingham, Alabama around 5 p.m. Within minutes, emergency first responders were dispatched to help clear debris and rescue victims from damaged homes.
Local resident, Ruthie Green, was hiding in the closet when the tornado hit.
“I’d been listening to the news all day so I was kind of preparing. Then I heard the big roaring, it didn’t last more than three minutes. I just laid down and just kept praying.”
Having survived the storm, Green quickly went door-to-door checking on neighbors before emergency personnel had arrived. No one was killed in the Alabama tornado; however, many people were taken to the hospital for minor injuries.
The line of thunderstorms continued to dump rain on parts of the region all throughout Christmas Day causing severe flooding in Alabama and mudslides in Georgia. Today, disaster workers are still searching homes and in the water for more victims. The search is especially difficult this time of year as many people have left for the holidays.
Tragically, 15 people were killed as a result of the storms, including a 7-year-old boy in Holly Springs, Mississippi. According to officials, among the dead are eight people in Mississippi, six in Tennessee, and one in Arkansas. Another 40 throughout the region were injured.
Of the six killed in Tennessee, three were found together in a car submerged underwater. In a statement released by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the victims were a 19-year-old female and two 22-year-old males.
In northern Mississippi, a tornado touched down and stayed on the ground for 150 miles with calamitous winds up to 160 miles per hour according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The NWS gave the Christmas Eve tornado an EF3 rating and its path is estimated to be the longest of any previous winter tornado in the southern U.S.
“An unusually warm and moist atmosphere combined with an approaching cold front sparked severe thunderstorms, setting the stage for tornadoes,” AccuWeather Meteorologist Ed Vallee said.
Many in the south are spending the Christmas holiday cleaning up and giving thanks for being alive.
Falkner, Mississippi resident, Barbara Perkins, got the news from her insurance agent that her home was a complete loss. Perkins and her husband endured the storm by hiding in a closet. Unfortunately, two of her neighbors did not survive.
“You kind of stop and realize what Christmas is all about,” Perkins said.
After the storms passed through, Sonja Wilkins returned to what was once her home in Holly Springs. The house she lived in with her husband and two children for the past nine years was completely gone.
“This is bad, this is bad. This is where I used to live and it’s all gone,” she told CBS News.
Her 35-year-old son was the only one at home when the Christmas Eve tornado struck the area. He survived with a broken pelvis and numerous cuts.
Wilkens went on to say, “It could have been worse. We could have been planning for a funeral instead.”
Despite the Christmas tornadoes, the spirit of the season is not entirely gone. The Red Cross in Holly Springs has received many donations and has been busy giving out toys to children who lost presents in the storm.
Deadly storms like the ones that came through during Christmas week are quite unusual as tornado season in the South does not start until early Spring. Fortunately, no one was killed when the tornado struck Birmingham, Alabama. The same cannot be said for other parts of the South as many continue to recover, clean up, and mourn the dead.
[Photo by AP Photo/Butch Dill]