Multiple tornados ripped through eastern Alabama as a drenching storm moved northeast across the state Thursday afternoon, damaging structures and prompting officials to warn residents to remain indoors and off the highways.
“Everyone inside was okay! They were under their work desks,” one resident tweeted from the hard-hit town of Pelham, along with photos of metal structures that had collapsed like wet cardboard on Belcher Drive.
Flash flood warnings were issued for Tuscaloosa, Walker, Marion, Jefferson, Pickens, Winston, Fayette and Lamar counties, CBS News meteorologist Zach Covey tweeted at 2:30 p.m. local time.
“Seek higher ground immediately!” he warned.
Tornado warnings were issued for Lauderdale, Newton and Kemper counties, Covey tweeted.
The storm was so intense, airborne debris could be tracked near Ohatchee.
“This is a ‘debris ball’ on radar,” local Fox meteorologist Tom Wachs tweeted, also at 2:30 p.m., along with a radar image of the flying wreckage’s path.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency for 46 counties.
Video footage from the town of Eagle Point showed houses dwarved by one looming tornado.
One home in the town was reduced to little more than kindling, according to one tweeted photo.
“No one was home thank God,” one family member said.
In South Birmingham, a young meteorology student said his life passed before his eyes as a tornado grazed his house.
“A tornado just hit our house in S[outh] Birmingham,” resident Alex Roberts, a self-described “Meteorologist-in-training,” tweeted. “We’re fine, but our patio is destroyed. I’m just so glad that we survived,” he wrote.
“I feel like I’ve been spared. I’ve never seen my life flash so fast … it’s much scarier when you’re with your family and not chasing. I’ll post updates later.”
In Shelby County, veteran meteorologist James Spann kept reporting the weather even as a tornado hit his home, causing major damage.
“Was off camera for no more than 10 minutes,” one fan from Connecticut, meteorology buff Sam Sagnella, noted in a tweet.