(AP/ABC7) - A powerful spring storm unleashed tornadoes and winds strong enough to peel the roofs from homes in the Deep South and heaped snow and ice on the Midwest, killing three people and leaving thousands without power as it moved up the East Coast on Friday.
Emergency officials said one person was killed by a tornado in Mississippi. In Missouri, a utility worker repairing power lines was electrocuted, and a woman in Nebraska died when she tried to trudge through a blinding snowstorm from her broken-down car to her house a mile away.
Golf-ball and baseball-sized hail pelted parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. The second day of play at the Masters at Augusta National in eastern Georgia began as scheduled, though. The course was a bit wet but otherwise undamaged.
High winds knocked down trees and power lines across the Southeast, though the storm had mostly moved out of the region by Friday morning. Sleet and freezing rain made driving treacherous in northern New York, where several schools closed and scores of others delayed the start of classes.
In Mississippi, Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said that one person died and 10 people were injured after a tornado struck Kemper County in the far-eastern part of the state. He said everyone had been accounted for, with the focus now shifting to damage assessment and cleanup.
At Contract Fabricators Inc. in Kemper County, bent pieces of tin hung from the heavily damaged building. A tractor-trailer was twisted and overturned, and debris from the business was strewn through the woods across the street.
Derek Cody, an amateur storm chaser who works at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, just south of Shuqualak (pronounced SHUG-a-lock), told The Associated Press he drove north to the small town to try to catch a glimpse of a tornado there.
He said he got out of his car on U.S. 45 just as the twister was approaching the highway, only to be hit by a strong gust of wind moving into the storm that almost knocked him over.
"I kind of sat there and hoped it would cross right in front of me," Cody said. "It was just a black mass that moved across the road."
Cody said the center of Shuqualak, an eastern Mississippi town of 500 people, was unaffected. But he said a gas station and about 10 or so houses west of the town center were damaged. He said one house was "completely flattened" with debris blown across the road.
Charlotte Conner, 47, and her mother were in a small, concrete block apartment on her family's property in Shuqualak in Noxubee County when the twister mowed it to the ground. The building, an old country store converted to an apartment, was reduced to a heap of broken concrete blocks and boards.
Conner said in a telephone interview Friday that she grabbed her mother's hand to keep the woman from being sucked out of the house. The two women had injured knees, scratches and bruises, and Conner had five stitches in her chin.
"I feel like I've been run over by an elephant and a train, but we're alive," Conner said. "It was just the hand of God that kept us safe."
Conner's aunt, Cindy Moore, 56, worried that the two women had been killed when she saw the roof of the concrete block building they were in hung in trees across the street in Shuqualak and their belongings scattered in the yard.
The system first swept across the nation's midsection Wednesday night and pummeled portions of Missouri. An EF-2 tornado, which generally carries winds of 113 mph to 157 mph, appears to have damaged dozens of homes in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood and more than 23,000 homes and businesses lost power, the National Weather Service said Thursday. A utility worker for Ameren Missouri was electrocuted while helping to repair damage, the company said.
In the upper Midwest over the past couple of days, heavy, wet snow, ice and wind have left thousands of homes and businesses without power. Some rivers topped their banks in Michigan, forcing officials to close roads.
In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency Thursday after a spring snowstorm heaped more headaches on the southwestern corner of the state, where communities are still struggling to restore power following an ice storm earlier in the week. Officials said it might be early next week before electricity was restored in the southwest.