NATIONAL NEWS

Storm-battered South is again under threat. A boy swept into a drain fights for his life

May 8, 2024, 10:24 PM | Updated: May 10, 2024, 3:42 am

COLUMBIA, Tenn. (AP) — Dangerous storms crashed over parts of the South on Thursday even as the region cleaned up from earlier severe weather that spawned tornadoes, killed at least three people, and gravely injured a boy who was swept into a storm drain as he played in a flooded street.

A heavy line of storms swept into Atlanta near the end of the morning rush hour. Busy hub airports in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, reported delays. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center cited an “enhanced risk” for severe weather from Texas to South Carolina. An emergency manager reported “significant wind damage” from a possible tornado Thursday afternoon in the Vidalia, Georgia, area, a region known for producing onions.

The storms continue a streak of torrential rains and tornadoes this week from the Plains to the Midwest and, now, the Southeast. Since Monday, 39 states have been under threat of severe weather and at least four people have died. On Wednesday and Thursday, about 220 million people were under some sort of severe weather risk, with some in danger multiple days, said Matthew Elliott, a Storm Prediction Center forecaster.

The weather comes on the heels of a stormy April in which the U.S. had 300 confirmed tornadoes, the second-most on record for the month and the most since 2011.

More than 100,000 homes and businesses still lacked power Thursday afternoon in several Southern states after storms the night before, according to PowerOutage.us.

One in Tennessee damaged homes, injured people, toppled power lines and trees, and killed a 22-year-old man in a car in Claiborne County, north of Knoxville, officials said. A second person was killed south of Nashville in Columbia, the seat of Maury County, where officials said a tornado with 140 mph (225 kph) winds damaged or destroyed more than 100 homes.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said the woman who died in Maury County was in a mobile home that was thrown several feet into a wooded area. Lee visited emergency managers and Tennessee Department of Transportation officials in the storm-stricken area Thursday. He thanked workers who spent the night clearing trees and debris from roads.

Later, Lee told reporters that it is “heartbreaking” to see families whose lives have been affected by the tornado.

“To observe another family in a moment of crisis is hard to watch, but it is hopeful to be able to walk up and see their interaction with their neighbors and comments that they’re going to make it,” Lee said.

Bob Booth had just gotten home to Columbia from Georgia and was sitting down to watch television when he heard a “crazy racket.”

“I get up and look out, and it was all hell breaking loose outside,” Booth said. “Then the top half of one of my trees goes down across the road.”

Retired pastor Walter Shell said he and his wife grabbed their two dogs and headed for the basement when his phone alerted him to a tornado.

“It missed where me and my wife were standing by about 4 inches. It went around,” he said. “It pays to pray, I can tell you.”

Torrential rains led to a flash flood emergency and water rescues northeast of Nashville, and the weather service issued a tornado emergency, its highest alert level, for nearby areas.

A 10-year-old boy was seriously injured in Christiana, southeast of Nashville, when he got caught in a storm drain and swept under streets while playing with other children as adults cleared debris, his father, Rutherford County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Sullivan, posted on social media.

The boy, Asher, emerged in a drainage ditch and survived after being given CPR, “but the damage is substantial,” Sullivan posted on Facebook, asking for prayers.

“Asher needs a miracle,” Sullivan wrote.

Dozens of people gathered at the school district’s offices for a prayer vigil Thursday. They bowed their heads and closed their eyes in prayer, and they sang “Amazing Grace” together.

Schools were closed Thursday and Friday in Rutherford and Maury. In Georgia, some districts north of Atlanta canceled in-person classes or delayed start times because of storm damage overnight that included fallen trees on houses and vehicles around Clarkesville. No injuries were reported there.

“We’re just trying to clean up right now and wait for the next round,” said Lynn Smith, director of the Habersham County Emergency Management Agency.

A strong tornado damaged at least 20 homes in northern Alabama’s DeKalb County and caused injuries but no deaths, officials said.

In North Carolina, a state of emergency was declared Wednesday night for Gaston County, west of Charlotte, after a storm that toppled power lines and trees, including one that landed on a car. One person in the car was killed, and another was taken to a hospital, officials said.

The storms followed heavy rain, strong winds, hail and tornadoes in parts of the central U.S. on Monday, including a twister that ripped through an Oklahoma town and killed one person. On Tuesday, the Midwest took the brunt of the bad weather. Tornadoes touched down in parts of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, according to the weather service.

Michigan’s Kalamazoo area was hard hit as a FedEx facility was ripped apart, with downed power lines trapping about 50 people.

Tornadoes were also confirmed near Pittsburgh, in central Arkansas and in northern West Virginia. The West Virginia twister was at least the 11th tornado this year in the state, which sees two tornadoes in an average year.

Both the Plains and Midwest have been hammered by tornadoes this spring.

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Associated Press journalists around the country contributed to this report, including Kimberlee Kruesi, Travis Loller, Jeff Amy, Joey Cappelletti, Ed White, Sarah Brumfield, Adrian Sainz and John Raby.

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Storm-battered South is again under threat. A boy swept into a drain fights for his life