MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A powerful storm slammed into a skating rink filled with more than 30 preschoolers Wednesday, destroying the building as terrified youngsters huddled inside.
One child suffered a broken bone and another had a head laceration, but everyone else was fine.
"I'm amazed that anyone got out of there," said Mayor Bobby Bright.
Authorities said they were unsure whether a tornado or strong thunderstorm hit the Fun Zone Skate Center, which has a preschool during the day. An apartment complex across the street also was damaged, but no injuries were reported.
Elsewhere, a possible tornado tore through a community south of Montgomery, toppling trees, overturning a mobile home and knocking out power at a school. A few homes also were damaged in south Alabama, and downpours of as much as 4 inches of rain caused minor flooding.
No serious injuries were reported.
The storms were part of a system moving into the state from the west. At least eight people were hurt in Mississippi, and one person was killed in Louisiana.
The storm hit the skating rink about 10:15 a.m., when 31 children and four adults were inside for day care. The manager made everyone get into the lone section of the building that survived the high winds.
"She may have saved many of these children's lives," said the mayor.
Russell Grant showed up to take home his 5-year-old son Justin after hearing what had happened.
"I wasn't panicked until I saw the building," he said.
Tantameka Moorer, who works at a drug store across the street from the rink, said the doors flew open as the wind picked up quickly.
"I ran to close the doors and it was like the sky was actually on the ground," she said. "It was gray and there was a lot of rain."
Jon Slaughter, who owns two nearby businesses, arrived at the skating center with two employees about five minutes after the building was ripped apart.
"What I saw was just utter destruction," said Slaughter. "The children were scared, they were cold and dirty. They were crying and upset, but really they were calmer than I thought they would be."
John Allen Dees and another person crawled under beams and wreckage looking for kids, but everyone was already out.
"I cannot imagine that anyone actually survived that," said Dees.
In the community of Hope Hull south of Montgomery, an apparent tornado snapped dozens of trees in a field beside Pintlala Elementary School. The top of a tree fell on to a walk-in cooler, but the school wasn't damaged otherwise.
"There was a loud rumble. I could tell by the way the wind was swirling we were close to something," said Principal Jeff Camp. "We had a lot of trees topple, but as far as the school building being damaged we were very blessed."
Three homes and a business were damaged by heavy winds north of Chatom in Washington County, and as much as 4 inches of rain fell in Baldwin and Monroe counties, causing homes to flood in Monroeville. Minor flooding also was reported near Mobile.
In the southeast Alabama town of Elba, police investigator Tony Harrison said several people were sent to a hospital after storms overturned trailers near a rural intersection.
"Tornadoes have touched down in a couple of places. We have a number of areas that have been messed up," he said.
A tornado that hit a community in rural Pike County destroyed a volunteer fire department and knocked down a water tower, flooding the area where it landed.
"In probably a five to 10 mile radius around there we've got damage, pretty much in the path of the tornado," said Ryan Ellis, an administrative assistant at the sheriff's office.
Two people were hurt in Coffee County, where a mobile home was destroyed. Damage was also reported in Covington County near the Florida state line.