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BOONE'S CHAPEL, Ala. — Vicious storms and howling winds smacked the Deep South, killing at least seven people in Alabama including three family members whose homes were tossed into nearby woods.
In Alabama's Washington County, about 50 miles north of Mobile, a mother and her two children were among those killed, said state emergency management agency director Art Faulkner. One person was reported dead in Mississippi's Greene County.
Combined with earlier reported fatalities in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the confirmed death toll had risen to 17 by early Saturday — the nation's deadliest storm of the season.
Henley Hollon said Saturday that his 65-year-old brother, Willard Hollon, lived across the street from him in the Boone's Chapel community about 25 miles from Montgomery. Henley Hollon said Willard Hollon and Willard's two adult children, Steve and Cheryl, were killed when the storms roared through.
Henley Hollon said he had been watching the weather forecast on television — and thought the worst was over when the winds started to pick up.
"It got up real fast. The lights went out," he said. "We had to feel our way into the hall. It lasted less than a minute."
He then went outside to check on the limbs down in his yard and walked across the road to check on his brother.
"When I shined the light out there I could see it was all gone," Henley Hollon said. Two mobile homes had been ripped from their foundations, and all that remained Saturday morning were wooden steps and flowerbeds.
"The trailer was anchored down and the anchors are gone," said Autauga County Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Sedinger. "But the steps are still there and the blooms are still on the flowers."
Another three deaths were reported early Saturday in Washington County in southern Alabama, said Yasamie Richardson, spokeswoman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
The system had already destroyed or damaged dozens of homes, businesses and churches Friday afternoon in Mississippi, where crews worked to clear roads, find shelter for displaced families and restore power.
Jeff Rent, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said one death was reported in Greene County.
In Marengo County in west-central Alabama, four separate tornadoes hit over the span of about five to six hours, emergency management director Kevin McKinney said.
The mobile home that had been tossed was a pile of rubble, along with another 30 homes or businesses that were destroyed, McKinney said. Four people had minor injuries.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency for the entire state, and the first race of a busy weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway was postponed until Saturday morning.
The storms began late Thursday in Oklahoma, where at least five tornadoes touched down and two people were killed. The system then pushed into Arkansas, killing seven more. Dozens of others were hurt.
Forecasters warned of approaching danger as much as three days earlier, but the winds up to 80 mph and repeated lightning strikes cut a path of destruction across a region so accustomed to violent weather that many people ignored the risk — or slept through it.