8 killed as tornadoes pound the South

Posted at 11:18 PM, Dec 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-24 11:11:25-05

(CNN) -- The calendar says it's nearly Christmas, but the damage looks more like spring.

A powerful storm system roared across parts of the South, claiming eight lives in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas and injuring scores more.

The Storm Prediction Center said at least 14 tornadoes hit Mississippi on Wednesday, but a single twister did most of the damage.

It started in northern Mississippi and didn't lift up until western Tennessee. The National Weather Service said it may have been on the ground 150 miles.

"If it is continuous it would be the longest track (December) tornado on record here in the mid-South," the Memphis office of the weather service said.


The storm managed to take a swipe at a number of small communities in northern Mississippi.

Damage reports came from Sardis, Clarksdale and Holly Springs.

The twister caught Lance Meeks by surprise when he stepped outside his door near Holly Springs.

"I laid down on the ground, and here come the tornado," Meeks told CNN affiliate WTVA-TV. "Rolled right over me. Uprooted trees, cut trees in half. And I don't know why I'm still standing here talking to you."

Early Thursday, the death toll in Mississippi was four, but the numbers could go higher.

A 7-year-old boy died in Marshall County, Coroner James Anderson said. The boy was in a car with his family near Holly Springs when a tornado came through the area.

Three people died in Benton County, authorities said. Two were unaccounted for, according to Master Sgt. Ray Hall with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

At least 40 people across six Mississippi counties were injured in the storms, said Greg Flynn with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. The driver of a tractor-trailer received minor injuries when the storm blew his rig over.

Video from affiliate WREG-TV showed three badly damaged houses in Como, just north of Sardis.

Tennessee and Arkansas

The storm made its way to Perry County, Tennessee, southwest of Nashville, where it killed two people. Another person was killed in Rhea County.

The state's emergency management director, Gary Rogers, told CNN affiliate WZTV-TV that two other people are missing. Three homes were destroyed.

An eighth person died Wednesday morning in Atkins, Arkansas.

An 18-year-old woman was killed when a tree fell through her roof. Four other people in the house, including an 18-month-old, survived. The baby was hospitalized.

Pope County Sheriff Shane Jones said heavy rain and straight-line winds caused the large tree to fall on the home.

Violent storms subside, but rains continue

The Storm Prediction Center said the risk for violent weather drops dramatically on Christmas Eve, but the forecast stays soggy.

Flood advisories are up for large sections of Georgia and the Carolinas after days of rain have soaked the region.

Back in battered northern Mississippi, LaJohn Curry found time to thank God, even as he stood in the wreckage of his Holly Springs home.

Why? Because his mother and sister, who were home when the twister hit, weren't hurt.

"It wasn't about the house. It was about the family," he told affiliate WMC-TV. "They are the most important thing to me."

CNN's Dave Alsup, Kevin Conlon and Tony Marco contributed to this report.

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