Tornadoes Rip Southern States; 10 Dead; 1,000 Homes Destroyed

April 26, 2010

Dozens of tornadoes left a path of destruction more than 50 miles long throughout the southern U.S.—including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee—over the weekend.

Ten people were killed in Mississippi.

According to catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide, the storms have destroyed more than 1,000 homes, overturned cars and downed hundreds of trees.

The damage prompted the governor of Mississippi to declare a state of emergency in areas affected by the tornadoes. While power has been restored to thousands of residents, some 10,000 customers may remain without power until Tuesday or later.

The largest tornadic storm originated in the central western region of Louisiana and started moving towards the east. While there were actually several tornados that touched the ground, the most devastating one was the tornado that hit Yazoo city (population 28,000) in Mississippi on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. It was reportedly a mile and a quarter wide, causing EF-4 level damage (EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale) and producing estimated wind gusts of 170 to 200 mph. The Hillcrest Baptist Church was flattened and an estimated 320 houses have been damaged in Yazoo. Downed trees have forced local officials to close many roads.

On Sunday, residents returned to demolished homes to salvage what they could and bulldoze the rubble.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said Sunday that at least three dozen people were hurt and nearly 200 homes damaged in Attala, Holmes, Monroe and Warren Counties. Officials were still working to assess the total damage in Choctaw and Yazoo counties.

Meteorologists said it was too soon to tell whether a single long-lasting tornado — or multiple shorter ones — carved the path of destruction from northeastern Louisiana to east-central Mississippi.

The same storm front spawned heavy thunderstorms that raked across the Southeast, snapping trees, damaging rooftops and scattering hail.

Tornadoes also were reported in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alabama, and the severe weather continued to track northeastward early Sunday as gusty winds also downed trees crossing northwest Georgia.

The severe weather began in Louisiana when a tornado destroyed 12 homes and warehouses at Complex Chemical Co., which makes antifreeze and other automotive fluids.

The storm system moved east, with the twister hitting nearby Yazoo County, Mississippi, killing four people. In adjacent Holmes County, another person was killed. A little farther northeast, a tornado hit Choctaw County, where another five victims were reported, including children ages 3 months, 9 and 14.

“The outbreak of tornadoes was spawned when a cold front moved across the Mississippi Valley and spread to the Ohio River Valley on April 24th,” said Dr. Tim Doggett, principal scientist at AIR Worldwide. “The cold front interacted with a warm humid air mass that had moved in from the Gulf of Mexico. During this time, a strong jet stream led to increased wind shear and a change in wind direction, facilitating the formation of severe rotating thunderstorms.”

Along the damage path, single or multi-family homes with wood frame construction or unreinforced masonry constructions were reported. “As expected with EF-3 and EF-4 category tornadoes, destructive damage occurs to non-engineered constructions such as wood-frame and masonry,” said Doggett.

“These structures are not designed or constructed to withstand tornadoes at these high wind speeds. Even well-engineered buildings that are designed to survive very intense winds may sustain some damage, including damage to non-structural components such as wall cladding and glass,” he said

Tornadic winds passing over the roof act like air moving over an airplane wing: uplift is created, which tends to raise the roof vertically. Winds are then able to enter, pressurizing the building and blowing out windows—and with them, contents. Debris generated from the damaged structures sand trees becomes a source for damage to other properties, according to the AIR expert.

The storm system moved northeast, hitting Choctaw county, where at least 114 buildings have been damaged. Downed trees and power lines littered the area. In all, more than 700 homes have been reported damage in Mississippi. This is the deadliest tornado to hit Mississippi in almost 20 years.

Elsewhere in Alabama, the most significant damage occurred at a trailer park where several single wide manufactured homes were destroyed. Large trees were also snapped or uprooted. An estimated 200 structures were also reportedly damaged in the town of Geraldine.

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