ADAIRSVILLE, Ga. - A massive storm system raked the Southeast on Wednesday, generating tornadoes and dangerous winds that flipped cars on a major Georgia interstate, demolished homes and businesses, and killed at least two people.
WSB-TV in Atlanta aired footage of an enormous funnel cloud bearing down on Adairsville, where the storm ripped through the city's downtown. Winds flattened homes and wiped out parts of a large manufacturing plant in the city about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta. Pieces of insulation hung from trees and power poles, and a bank was missing a big chunk of its roof.
A 51-year-old man was killed when a tree crashed through a mobile-home roof, and nine people were hospitalized for minor injuries, emergency management officials said. One other death was reported in Tennessee when an uprooted tree fell onto a storage shed where a man had taken shelter.
The storms tossed vehicles on Interstate 75 onto their roofs, closing the highway for a time.
"The sky was swirling," said Theresa Chitwood, who owns the Adairsville Travel Plaza. She said she went outside to move her car because she thought it was going to hail. Instead, the storm decimated a building behind the plaza.
Wind gusts were powerful enough to flip several tractor-trailers onto their sides in the parking lot.
Danny Odum and Rocky Depauw, truckers from Marion, Ill., had stopped for breakfast when the storm hit.
The pair had been driving their trucks through storm warnings all night long. They went inside to eat and Depauw got a weather alert on his phone. About two minutes later they saw debris flying through the parking lot and ran for an inner room.
After it passed, Odum said he went outside to find his truck on its side with his dog, Simon, a Boston terrier, unharmed and still inside. Depauw's truck was parked next to Odum's and was damaged but still upright.
Bartow County Fire Chief Craig Millsap said there were reports that two storm warning sirens may have failed, but he said they were not in the hardest-hit area.
A shelter was set up at a community recreation center as temperatures were expected to plummet to the 30s and 40s overnight and people had no heat or power. About 12,000 customers statewide had no electricity.
Partial flooding caused massive traffic jams along I-75 into Atlanta and blocked lanes and entrance ramps on four other highways Wednesday night, said state Department of Transportation spokesman David Spear.
In recent days, the South and Midwest had enjoyed unseasonably balmy temperatures in the 60s and 70s. A system pulling warm weather from the Gulf of Mexico collided with a cold front moving in from the west, creating volatility.
In Tennessee, officials confirmed that a tornado with peak winds of 115 mph touched down in Mount Juliet. No serious injuries were reported. At least six other tornadoes were reported statewide.