Powerful Storms Leave Trail of Damage Across Southeast

Powerful thunderstorms packing heavy rain and high winds pushed across Alabama and Mississippi on Thursday, causing scattered property damage and at least two traffic deaths.

Several tornado watches or warnings were issued Thursday in both states, but no touchdowns were immediately confirmed.

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In Mississippi, a motorist was killed after colliding with a Lamar County deputy head-on during the height of the storm, while a single-vehicle accident in Jones County claimed another life.

Authorities there said the vehicles involved in both crashes may have hydroplaned during downpours, though investigations are continuing.

In Alabama's Lamar County near the Mississippi line, at least two houses were destroyed in Sulligent, the National Weather Service said.

In nearby Vernon, rescuers freed a woman who was pinned in her vehicle after a tree fell on it, said Don Dollar, an administrative assistant with the city. She was taken to a hospital, but her condition was not available Thursday afternoon.

Just across the state line, buildings and buses were damaged at a school in Caledonia, Miss., said Lea Stokes, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

To the southwest in Choctaw County, one woman was injured and barns at a large dairy farm were heavily damaged during the peak of the storms Thursday afternoon, county emergency management spokesman Steve Montgomery said. At least one other person in the county was hurt in the storm, but the area hospital said the injuries did not appear to be serious.

The severe weather shut down many schools, including the University of Alabama and the University of North Alabama.

In east-central Illinois, meanwhile, days of springlike weather that brought heavy rainfall and melting snow caused severe flooding that forced hundreds of people to evacuate.

Floodwaters were as deep as 6 feet in Watseka, were residents left about 235 homes. Fire Chief David Mayotte said officials used a dozen boats to rescue about 535 residents, plus 75 pets, starting shortly after midnight Wednesday and continuing into Thursday morning.

"Most of the people who have lived here a long time say it's the worst flooding they've seen," said Carl Gerdovich, director of the Iroquois County Emergency Service Disaster Agency. Floodwaters in the area were dropping Thursday.

Watseka residents Tracy Hendry and her two daughters planned to spend Thursday night at Trinity Church. Hendry recently moved out of her house and her belongings were stored in her mother's garage, which was knee-high in water Thursday.

"I lost everything," she said. "I'm just taking it as it goes."

Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared state disaster areas in Iroquois County and Livingston County, where about 200 homes were evacuated when the Vermilion River went over its banks.

In Vancouver, Wash., a rare tornado touched down Thursday in a residential area, downing power lines, uprooting trees and tossing shopping carts into cars. There were no reports of injuries, fire department spokesman Jim Flaherty said.

Connie Storey of Vancouver told KGW-TV she was walking her dog when the wind came up and "blew me across the street into my neighbor's cyclone fence, where I hung on for dear life." The high winds lasted about 30 seconds, she said.

In Creede, Colo., skies cleared and the winds were calm as two helicopters and searchers on skis searched for two snowboarders missing since last weekend amid brutal weather in the southwestern Colorado mountains.

Michael George and Kyle Kerschen, both 27 and both from Albuquerque, N.M., were reported missing on Saturday near the Wolf Creek ski resort about 170 miles southwest of Denver.