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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2008

Storms tear through Mississippi, Alabama; floods hit Kentucky

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Water rises to near flood levels on a lake in Fort Smith, Ark. Toppling trees and fallen wires took out electricity in several communities, and evacuations were ordered after a gas leak. Water rises to near flood levels on a lake in Fort Smith, Ark. Toppling trees and fallen wires took out electricity in several communities, and evacuations were ordered after a gas leak.
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JACKSON, Miss. - Strong thunderstorms toppled trees, knocked out power, and damaged homes yesterday in Mississippi and Alabama, while flooding in Kentucky forced evacuations and left a 2-year-old girl dead.

Across Mississippi, fast-moving storms unleashed possible tornadoes, heavy rain, and some hail. Power failures were reported in several communities, including near downtown Vicksburg and in Jackson.

Tate Moudy of Brandon had just walked into the Southern States Utility Trailer Sales office on U.S. Highway 49 in Richland after showing a trailer to a customer when "there was a big bang from a transformer being knocked out and debris started flying through the front door."

The powerful storm overturned 18-wheeler trailers, ripped away part of the roof of the sales office, and twisted beams in the building, Mr. Moudy said. Employees and others had to stay inside because power lines had fallen across vehicles parked in the lot.

At least 90,000 customers of Entergy Mississippi lost power yesterday, mostly in and around Jackson, said company spokesman Checky Herrington. It will probably be Monday before power is restored to all of them, the spokesman said.

Amid scattered damage in north Alabama, no injuries were reported, but forecasters said tornadoes would be a threat for hours in central counties. School systems throughout the Birmingham area dismissed students ahead of a wave of storms.

Falling trees hit several houses and a nursing home in Cullman, and authorities ordered an evacuation of everyone within a half-mile radius of a downtown area where a gas leak was reported. Workers contained the leak but feared fuel had reached the city's storm sewers.

Power was out and officials urged the city's 14,000 residents to conserve water because the treatment plant couldn't operate.

In Colbert County, emergency management director Mike Melton said power lines and trees were down in a wide area. "There's about a four-mile path of damage," he said.

In Kentucky, rivers and streams surged over their banks as rainfall reached a half-foot in some areas.

Kate Hearod, 2, died yesterday after her mother, Heather Hearod, 22, rounded a curve before dawn in western Kentucky, drove into high water, and lost control of her vehicle, state police said. Ms. Hearod of Hampton got out of the vehicle to retrieve her daughter, but as the mother struggled to get out of the floodwater she became separated from her child and lost sight of her, said state police Trooper Stu Recke. The girl was found nearby and died later at a hospital, he said.

In and near Little Rock, residents used chainsaws, backhoes, and elbow grease to clean up from a tornado that swept through Thursday night.

At the North Little Rock Airport, a single-engine Cessna lay on its nose propeller against a fuel truck near the runway yesterday.

The winds also tore into one metal-sided hangar and cut across the runway heading northeast.



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