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Southern storms kill 2, unleash damaging tornadoes

By Steve Almasy, CNN
December 26, 2012 -- Updated 0420 GMT (1220 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Coach describes huddling with family inside school building while tornado raged outside
  • More than 100,000 people without power in several states
  • Man describes how tornado took out power grid in his area
  • Air travelers are urged to call ahead, as some flights are canceled

(CNN) -- Powerful storms pounded cities and towns across the South on Christmas Day, leaving at least two people dead and others injured.

A tornado struck Mobile, Alabama, according to the local National Weather Service office.

A tower camera for CNN affiliate WALA showed a large wedge tornado moving through the city.

Rick Cauley said he never heard the train noise witnesses to tornadoes often talk about. It was hard for him to hear at all.

Cauley, an assistant football coach and history teacher at Murphy High School, took his wife, two young children and in-laws to the school to ride out the storm in the safety of the sturdy field house.

Ten minutes after they arrived, the pressure dropped suddenly.

"Our ears popped, it was hard to hear," he told CNN affiliate WALA.

The family huddled in the hallway of the field house as destruction swooped down on the campus.

"It was pretty horrific," Cauley said.

When he emerged into the dark night it was a surreal scene.

An equipment barn was destroyed, as was the facility the school used for indoor baseball practice.

"It's nothing but kindling," he said.

Six mobile classrooms, including one Cauley taught in, were also wiped out.

Cauley said there was also significant damage to the roof of the school auditorium and the band room.

"You could see it forming ... and then it came behind the church and then (there was) all green fluorescent lighting and it was like popping transformers left and right," another witness told WALA. "You heard crashing and then the power went out."

There were no initial reports of injuries, a spokesman for Mobile Fire-Rescue said.

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Several buildings, including a church and a high school, were damaged by the tornado, and there were several car wrecks, Steve Huffman said.

"One female was transported to the hospital with pregnancy issues, but she was not injured," he said.

A spokeswoman with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency said at least three counties were affected.

"We are still getting damage reports," Yasamie August said. "We know that Mobile County has significant damage from trees down and power lines down. Most of that is concentrated around Government Street. Choctaw and Clarke counties are also reporting damage.

"The city of Prichard had one person injured due to the home they were in," she said.

In Clarke County, high winds shoved a barn onto U.S. Highway 43, Emergency Management Director Roy Waite said.

Nearly 21,500 customers in Mobile were without power, Alabama Power said on its Twitter feed. Statewide, there were 26,600 homes and business in the dark. More than 84,000 customers in Arkansas and about 4,000 in Louisiana were without power late Tuesday, officials said.

A 25-year-old man in Texas was killed after a tree fell on his pickup as he was driving on the northwest side of Houston, Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Gilliland said. Officials suspected high winds knocked the tree down.

A 28-year-old woman from Woodward, Oklahoma, was killed in an accident on a snow-covered two-lane highway.

Amanda Goodman was ejected from the SUV she was riding in after the driver lost control and struck an oncoming big rig, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said. Goodman died at the scene while the driver and a 4-year-old passenger were taken to a hospital. They were listed in stable condition. The truck driver was not injured.

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An apparent tornado touched down near downtown Alexandria, Louisiana, police said. One person was injured and more than a dozen buildings suffered significant damage, Lt. Paul Ellington of Alexandria police said.

Homes in Pearl River County in central Mississippi were damaged when a storm passed through Tuesday afternoon, the director of the county's emergency management department said. Danny Manley said one person suffered minor injuries and power was out in many homes. U.S. Highway 84 in Lawrence County was shut down because of downed power lines and debris.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said conditions remained favorable for a few powerful or long-lasting tornadoes in southern and eastern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia. It is also forecast thunderstorm wind damage for parts of the Southeast into the early morning hours Wednesday.

National traffic and road closure information

CNN's Sarah Dillingham, Carma Hassan, Mariano Castillo, Joe Sutton and Steve Brusk contributed to this report.

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