JACKSON, Miss. – A Mississippi woman who desperately tried to direct rescuers to her sinking vehicle after it skidded into a rain-swollen creek Monday was among four people killed in storms across the South.
Jacqueline Williams, 52, ran off a road into a creek in Florence early Monday and dialed 911 from the car as it went down, said Rankin County Coroner David Ruth.
Ruth said the woman, who lived in Florence, was trying to relay her location to a dispatcher as the car settled into the swirling waters.
"She was talking to a 911 dispatcher when the water overtook her," Ruth said. "She was trying to tell the dispatcher where she was, and she could actually hear the sirens."
The two lost contact, and Ruth said a swift-water recovery team later found Williams' body in the creek outside the car.
Florence Police Chief Richard Thomas, speaking to WJTV, said the current where the woman died was fast and strong.
Thomas said authorities got a call from a woman saying her car was being swept off into the water around 4 a.m. Authorities immediately began looking for the woman but couldn't immediately find her.
"It was quick. It was really quick," Thomas said.
The woman's body was eventually recovered, but Thomas said authorities were still waiting for the waters to recede so they can recover the vehicle.
Florence is a small town of about 4,000 people, and Thomas said he knew the woman who died.
"Our kids played baseball together," he said. "Words don't describe it. Words don't describe. They're really good people. I hate that it happened."
Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said another woman died in the Delta town of Glendora when strong winds knocked a large tree onto her house Sunday night, and two people died earlier in Louisiana.
Forecasters said tornadoes and strong winds were likely from Mississippi to South Carolina. The greatest tornado risk was centered over southern Alabama, the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma said.
As the storms moved eastward, administrators across southern Alabama canceled classes rather than have children traveling to school amid torrential rains. Those public school systems included two of the state's largest in Mobile and Montgomery.
Forecasters said about 3 inches of rain already had fallen in parts of western Alabama. Alabama Power said more than 27,000 homes and businesses were without electricity.
By Monday morning, the worst of the weather to hit Louisiana seemed to have passed through but left behind pockets of tornado damage and flooding from heavy rains.
Street flooding was still a problem in some communities. The stormy weather forced some of the state's public school districts to cancel or delay the start of classes Monday.
Some of the heaviest rains fell in central Louisiana from Sunday into early Monday. C.S. Ross, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Shreveport, says nearly 8 inches of rain was reported in Grant Parish.
A tornado flipped a mobile home Sunday in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, killing a mother and her 3-year-old daughter. The storm also brought hurricane-force winds, large hail and sparked flash flooding. Up to 6 inches of rain fell in some areas.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards put the entire state on "high alert" and warned residents to stay off the roads. He urged people to keep their cellphones charged and close by so they could get severe weather alerts through Monday.
"It is an extremely dangerous weather event," he said.
A tornado with peak winds of 110 mph (180 kph) traveled for nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) on the ground in the rural community of Breaux Bridge, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Baton Rouge, the National Weather Service reported.
St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Maj. Ginny Higgins told The Associated Press that the tornado touched down soon after a warning was issued.
"Seconds later it hit," Higgins said. "It hit the trailer, flipped it and tore its side off. There was a mother and daughter inside and both were killed."
Higgins said 38-year-old Francine Gotch and 3-year-old Nevaeh Alexander were pronounced dead at the scene. Witnesses told KLFY-TV that the father was at the store when the storm hit and returned home to find the bodies amid the splintered debris.
Relatives described those killed as a fun-loving pair who smiled frequently.
Nevaeh "was the sweetest little girl," said Sheryle Rubin, who's engaged to the girl's uncle. "She was only 3 years old but was the smartest girl in the world. She would've started school in August."
Reeves reported from Birmingham, Ala. Rebecca Santana in New Orleans contributed to this report.