MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — A school, church and several homes in downtown Mobile were damaged by a likely tornado Tuesday before the storm system that brought twisters to many places in the South moved to other parts of the state.
Despite the damage, fire officials said they completed a door-to-door search and found two people who needed to go to shelters, but no injuries.
Waves of storms moved across the city, complicating damage assessments because of the continued threat of high winds or twisters. National Weather Service officials Tuesday night said information on top wind speeds was not immediately available. The agency expected to perform damage assessments Wednesday morning.
Forecasters in Mobile said southwestern Alabama could see a series of severe thunderstorms following the tornado, and additional twisters could form in the area through the early morning.
Tornado warning sirens blared more than two hours after the first line of storms came through.
Rick Cauley, his wife, Ashley, and two children were hosting members of both of their families. When the sirens went off, the family headed down block to take shelter at the athletic field house at Mobile's Murphy High School.
"As luck would have it, that's where the tornado hit," Cauley said. "The pressure dropped and the ears started popping and it got crazy for a second." They were all fine, though the school was damaged.
WALA-TV posted a photo (http://bit.ly/TszP4J) of a large funnel cloud forming in the distance around 5 p.m. Tuesday. As of 8 p.m. no serious injuries had been reported.
The storm overturned cars and blew out windows at Mobile Infirmary, which was operating on generator power because of outages, but no one was hurt, said Nancy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Mobile County Commission.
Scott Rye, a senior warden at Trinity Episcopal Church, said a large section of the church's roof was missing and the front wall of the parish hall building was destroyed in the storm.
"Thank God this didn't happen last night," Rye said. The building was crowded for Christmas Eve services.
Rye said Mobile Fire-Rescue officials told church members to leave the complex because it was structurally unsound. He said a number of the mature oaks lining Dauphin Street — a main thoroughfare leading from downtown Mobile to Interstate 65 — were downed by the tornado. Elsewhere on Dauphin, the roof was missing from a decades-old wood-frame house, and power lines crisscrossed the road.
Ashleigh Gerth and her husband, Jason, live on the street with their sons, ages 3 and 1. Ashleigh was watching TV and realized Mobile was in the warning area when she heard a roar outside. She and her husband got everyone into the bathroom with other relatives who were there for Christmas.
"It was like a freight train was going through," said Ashleigh. As she spoke, her youngest son rested in her arms and the older boy clung to her leg.