After sweeping through the Midwest with blinding snow, a major winter storm brought a rare white Christmas to parts of the South and set off damaging tornadoes. The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore reports.
Crews scrambled to restore power Wednesday after a string of Christmas tornadoes tore across the South, toppling trees, ripping off roofs, and dropping one-inch hailstones.
The National Weather Service said there were a record 34 tornadoes reported in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday.
A state of emergency was declared in Mississippi, where homes, roads and businesses were damaged in at least nine counties. Eight people were injured but expected to survive, officials said.
A tornado watch was issued Wednesday for the eastern Carolinas until 5:00 p.m. ET.
At one point late Tuesday, holiday celebrations went dark for at least 150,000 customers in Alabama; electricity had been restored to all but 8,500 by the next morning, according to Alabama Power.
The worst of the tornadoes hit Tuesday afternoon in Mobile, Ala.
Rick Cauley, who was hosting relatives for Christmas, got everyone in the house to a shelter at the high school down the block.
"As luck would have it, that's where the tornado hit," Cauley told The Associated Press. "The pressure dropped and the ears started popping and it got crazy for a second."
The school was damaged, but the family was fine.
Mobile Press-Register reporter John Sharp wrote that he hunkered down in his bathtub in the fetal position while the power flickered off and the twister roared around his building.
When he walked outside, he was stunned. The roof of a small shopping center had caved in, and several cars in a restaurant parking lot were destroyed.
“Visibly, it was like a bomb has gone off at The Loop,” he wrote. “A one-way street sign was literally sawed into half. The Dauphin Island Parkway/Airport Boulevard sign was flattened. Power lines were lying on the ground.
“It's a Christmas miracle no one was killed,” he added.
Mobile’s Trinity Episcopal Church lost a large section of its roof and a wall, but officials were looking on the bright side. Hours before the tornado touched down, there were 500 people in the church for Christmas Eve services.
"Thank God this didn't happen last night," senior warden Scott Rye said.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley released a statement thanking first responders for their holiday efforts.
"The people of Alabama are strong," he said. "We will recover together.”
Yuletide twisters are unusual, but they happen. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned a holiday tornado, National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro told the AP.
In 1982, 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32 over Christmas.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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