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Severe weather, tornadoes slam the South

JACKSON, Miss. -- A trail of damage was left at an Army post, schools and businesses were closed for a second day, and a damaged women's prison was running partly on backup power Wednesday after two days of storms unleashed tornadoes and flooding in the South and dumped heavy snow in the Midwest.

The most recent apparent twister knocked down some trees and damaged vehicles and buildings at Fort Stewart in southeast Georgia on Wednesday evening, spokesman Kevin Larson said. He said the extent of the damage was not immediately known, but there were no reports of injuries. Fort Stewart is the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River. Much of its land area is uninhabited forestland.

The National Weather Service had reports of a tornado moving northeast at about 35 mph, and tornado warnings had been issued for Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties west of Savannah.

In Rankin County, Mississippi, firefighters rescued at least eight people from rising floodwaters, CBS News correspondent David Begnaud reported.

"Seeing them come, that was the best part of it," a resident said. "When I've seen those lights coming down this road, I knew that we were going to be okay."

Willie Jackson and his family hid as a tornado barreled through their home.

"We ran in the house but we survived by the grace of God," Jackson said.

The tornado that hit Collinsville, Mississippi, ripped apart the First Baptist Church. Its pastor, Wade Ricks, said he heard it coming and rushed his family to safety.

The pastor loaded his wife and son up into his SUV and pulled it alongside the church, thinking the wall of the building would help protect the vehicle. The Ricks family then raced inside the church, where they survived by huddling under a desk.


Friends and family members help clean up where the home of Darrel and Kristy Shows once stood in Collinsville, Miss., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016.

Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star via AP

But the more than 350 members of First Baptist's congregation will need to find another place to worship on Sunday.

"The damage is pretty extreme. Every building has received substantial damage. Most of it is going to have to be pretty much torn down," First Baptist Church worship pastor Stephen Ferrand told Begnaud.

Begnaud reported that the timing of the tornado was key -- had the tornado hit just 24 hours later, there would have been children in the church classroom in the direct path of the tornado.

In western Alabama, the administration building at the Federal Correctional Institution Aliceville was running on a generator Wednesday, a day after a tornado struck the low-security lockup housing about 1,850 inmates, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. No employees or inmates were hurt, the statement said.

The National Weather Service in Birmingham reported a "confirmed large and destructive tornado" on the ground in the same general area as the women's prison, about 45 miles west of Tuscaloosa. Minor injuries were reported. More than a dozen homes were destroyed by a tornado that touched down in the town of McMullen on Tuesday evening, the National Weather Service said.

In Mississippi, a confirmed tornado was reported just before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in eastern Newton and Lauderdale counties, largely rural areas in the eastern part of the state, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The storm damaged homes, toppled trees and knocked out power, said Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie.

In west Tennessee, high winds damaged several homes and buildings at Crockett County High School, the National Weather Service said. Public schools were closed Wednesday to survey damage from the weather.

The storms also produced flooding. In Georgia, an apartment building was evacuated before dawn Wednesday due to flooding near the town of Fort Oglethorpe, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, the weather service said, citing a report from an emergency manager in Catoosa County, Georgia. No serious injuries were reported. In Cheatham County, near Nashville, officials said a driver had to be rescued Wednesday when his sport utility vehicle was swept into a flooded creek.

Friends and neighbors work on the roof of the home of Debbie McCormick on Shelby Road near Newton, Miss., that received extensive damage after a storm Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016. A tornado damaged homes and at least one church, and strong winds damaged student housing at a community college Tuesday in eastern Mississippi.

Farther west, a powerful snowstorm buried parts of Colorado and Nebraska in more than a foot of snow on Tuesday before crawling into the Upper Midwest. The storm knocked out power and triggered flight cancellations across a large swath of states from Colorado to northern Michigan.

Several Nebraska schools and businesses remained closed a second day Wednesday as workers tried to reopen snow-covered roads. Interstate 80 was reopened after a 275-mile stretch was closed from Ogallala east to Lincoln, though other highways remained closed as snowplows pushed aside ice, slush and snow.

A car dealership employee cleans off a vehicle, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, following a snowstorm which dumped a foot of snow in Bloomington, Minn.

In south-central Nebraska, more than 18 inches of snow were recorded in Grand Island and nearly 16 inches in nearby Hastings, according to the National Weather Service. The northeastern Nebraska communities of Verdigre and Wayne had 16 inches of snow, while 14 inches was reported in Norfolk. Utilities reported that electricity has been restored to almost all of the more than 20,000 customers who'd lost power.

The combination of snow in one part of the country and severe thunderstorms in another isn't unusual when a powerful system moves across the country, said Greg Carbin with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

"February can feature some exciting dynamics in the atmosphere," Carbin said. "This system we've had our eye on since it was in the Pacific."