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April 29, 2014

Deadly storms continue to pummel South

Damage widespread in Mississippi, Alabama

Emergency personnel remained in “search and rescue mode” early Tuesday morning after a wave of deadly storms made its way through Mississippi and Alabama, continuing a path of destruction stretching from the Midwest to the Deep South.

At least eight people died in Mississippi, where a tornado leveled buildings and downed trees. Damage was particularly severe in Louisville, a city of 7,000 located roughly 90 miles northeast of Jackson. There, the Associated Press reported that firefighters were searching through the remains of shattered mobile homes, looking for three people still unaccounted for following a tornado late Monday evening.

In Tupelo, a local television station was evacuated as a tornado bore down. Matt Laubhan, the chief meteorologist at WTVA, ordered staffers to head to a basement live on the air before walking off the set himself.

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton characterized the damage to his city as “widespread and devastating.” Shelton told CNN that workers at a Steak Escape restaurant survived the storm by huddling in a bathroom as high winds tore the building apart around them.

In Alabama, two people died in Limestone County, near the Tennessee border, when a tornado touched down near Athens. The News Courier reported that emergency workers were combing through a trailer park where more victims could be possibly be discovered.

Power lines and utility poles were down across a wide swath of the county, and fallen trees across roadways were hampering search efforts, Sheriff Mike Blakely told the News Courier. Officials estimated the tornado to be half a mile wide, with winds reaching 165 mph.

Early Tuesday morning, the University of Alabama confirmed that one of its athletes was killed when a retention wall in a basement gave way during the storm.

University officials told WBRC-TV in Birmingham that 21-year-old junior swimmer John Servati, from Tupelo, was seeking shelter in the basement of a home when the wall collapsed. Servati was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The powerful storm system is expected to continue east Tuesday and Wednesday into Georgia — where Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency — before subsiding later in the week.

Details for this story were reported by the Athens News Courier in Athens, Ala.

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