ALABAMA (CNN) – A suspected tornado that tore through Alabama early Wednesday killed three people and injured at least two others, officials said, as a powerful band of storms passed through the state.
The storm ripped through Jackson County in northeastern Alabama, causing destruction over a 1.5-mile path, knocking down power lines and mangling mobile homes near the community of Rosalie.
“We can’t tell what kind of damage we’ve got (due to the dark),” Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips told CNN affiliate WAFF-TV in Huntsville.
Jackson County Coroner Harry Laney told CNN that local officials and law enforcement have started to assess the damage to homes and treat injured residents. A search-and-rescue team has begun looking for others who may have been injured.
‘Everybody is just pulling together’
The National Weather Service also observed a possible tornado in neighboring DeKalb County that packed 40-mph winds.
“Everybody is just pulling together,” Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Inc. Director Don Webster told CNN affiliate WAAY-TV in Huntsville. “It’s a team effort: People (are) out here trying to help their neighbors (even if) they don’t even know them, trying to work with them. It’s good to see our community come together at times like this.”
Across the state in Colbert County, home to the famed recording center of Muscle Shoals, emergency responders had begun trying to determine how many homes were destroyed.
“We’ve had a community member lose their residence,” Colbert Heights volunteer Fire Chief EJ Lindblom told WAAY. “But nobody got seriously hurt and nobody has lost any life so we got that to be thankful for.”
Shelter from the storm
More than 50 miles southeast, about 70 people in Winston County were thankful to be alive after seeking refuge in a storm shelter. The storm shelter, installed three years ago, was built following a tornado outbreak in April 2011.
“My family, we left our house about four minutes before it got here,” Christopher Hood, a Helicon volunteer firefighter, told CNN affiliate WBMA-TV in Birmingham. “… It was standing room, rubbing elbows only.”
Hood could hear the wind whistle scream over the top of the shelter as debris smacked the exterior of the structure, damaging cars outside.
“It was just like a drum on the inside. And it was loud, it was really loud,” Hood said.
The shelter survived. However, the adjacent Helicon Community Center, a new building that had just been completed, was destroyed.
Thousands without power in Alabama
Alabama Power Co. reported that about 3,500 customers are without power as a result of the strong band of storms overnight.
Of those, 3,300 are in the state’s western counties. The remainder of outages are scattered throughout the Birmingham metro area, an Alabama Power media relations representative told CNN.