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Tornadoes sweep across Southeast

Hundreds of buildings, mobile homes, damaged and/or destroyed Sunday.

PRATTVILLE, AL | February 17, 2008

Hundreds of houses, mobile homes, apartments and businesses were damaged or destroyed Sunday afternoon when severe storms, including a reported tornado, hit this central Alabama city.

In a winter that has seen tornadoes and flooding ravage parts of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee on more than one occasion, Sunday's storms brought unconfirmed reports of at least 29 tornadoes and damage to parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

In Prattville, two local residents were hospitalized in critical condition, said Prattville Fire Chief Dallis Johnson. So many people were treated at Prattville Baptist Hospital Sunday that the less severely injured were encouraged to go to a mobile treatment center.

Shelters were set up in two local churches.

Jim Byard, mayor of this town of more than 25,000 residents, declared a curfew Sunday night. He estimated as many as 30 homes were destroyed and another 170 houses were damaged by the storm. Two apartment complexes were also badly damaged. Nearly 10,000 homes were without power Sunday night.

According to witnesses, a Wal-Mart store and many other businesses were badly damaged.

A mobile home park in nearby Millbrook was also damaged.

In Covington County, two homes were reported to be completely destroyed and there was damage to two others when a tornado touched down there.

"Mostly, we have a lot of trees and power lines down everywhere," said Kristi Stamnes of the Covington County Emergency Management Agency.

"This was one of the most significant outbreaks in central Alabama in the past two or three years, Jason Wright, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham said.

In Florida, four homes were destroyed and several others damaged in Escambia County, according to the National Weather Service.

According to Frank Strait of AccuWeather, the storm began in Texas on Saturday and gained some intensity as it pushed north and east. He expects the severe weather will affect the southern region of the United States through Monday, easing overnight Sunday and in the early hours Monday and finally dissipating late Monday morning.

Strait said the severe weather was spawned by the cold weather from the central part of the country clashing with the warm, damp air that has enveloped the South in recent days.

"The two systems came together and we've got severe thunderstorms, hail and all the right conditions for tornadoes."

In addition to reports of tornadoes, heavy rains and winds of between 40 and 70 miles an hour were reported across the region. Hail was reported in several locations as well.

According to the National Weather Service, an average 28 tornadoes are reported in February each year. Before Sunday's storms, 96 had already been reported this February.

The storms came the day after more than 500 central Alabama residents had visited a Severe Weather Awareness Day at a Montgomery shopping mall. Representatives of area emergency management agencies, the Alabama Power Co., the Montgomery chapter of the American Red Cross and other public safety organizations were represented at the event. This week has been dubbed "Severe Weather Awareness Week" across the state.

-- VICKI DeSORMIER contributed to this story

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