"It missed us by 100 feet and we have no damage," Gerth said.
Lights burned in some homes, others were dark. Police set up roadblocks because limbs and trees downed by the storm covered residential streets; red and blue lights flashed as rain pelted police cars and fire trucks.
As of 9 p.m., 31,000 customers were without power statewide — about 26,000 of them in the Mobile area, Alabama Power reported. Officials said there were also pockets of customers without power in Demopolis, Haleyville and Greensboro.
As the storms continued to blow through, Gov. Robert Bentley encouraged residents to "stay close to reliable sources of weather warnings."
"I also want to offer my prayers for everyone impacted by these storms," he said in a statement. "We will work on the state level to do everything we can to help communities across the state. The people of Alabama are strong. We will recover together."
After hitting Mobile, National Weather Service officials reported the storm was heading toward Grove Hill, which is about 80 miles north of Mobile in western Alabama.
A tornado struck a mobile home park near the municipal airport at Troy, Ala., trapping a man in the wreckage of a trailer, said Thomas Johnston of the Pike County Emergency Management Agency. Rescue workers freed the person, who wasn't hurt badly, and no other serious injuries were reported, he said.
The storm blew a barn and a silo across U.S. 43 a few miles outside of Grove Hill and flipped a vacant mobile home, said Clarke County emergency management director Roy Waite. Trees and power lines were down and workers were trying to fix a natural gas leak at a small manufacturing plant.
Mary Cartright said she was working at the Fast Track convenience store in the town on Christmas evening when the wind started howling and the lights flickered, knocking out the store's computerized cash registers.
"We've had some pretty heavy weather," said Cartright in a phone interview. "Our cash registers are down so our doors are closed."
The storm is part of a severe weather system that has already damaged parts of Louisiana and Mississippi and is moving east.
Brian Daly, a Mobile-based National Weather Service meteorologist, said forecasters were anticipating EF-2 and EF-3 tornadoes. On Dec. 20, an EF-1 tornado that hit Alabama and left 54,700 people without power.
A National Weather Service meteorologist based in Birmingham says a tornado watch is not in effect for the Birmingham area, although forecasters there are also expecting damaging winds and hail in central Alabama.
Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta and Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.