Weather: Tornado, Winds, Kill at Least 17 in Southern States

Deadly Twisters
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Powerful storms snapped power lines, uprooted trees and smashed cars across the south this week. Seven deaths were reported in Alabama Saturday, raising the storm's total death toll to at least seventeen.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency for the state on Friday.

"This is a serious storm that has already caused significant damage across the South. I hope Alabamians take extreme caution while these storms move through," said Governor Bentley. "When this weather system is no longer a threat, we are prepared to assist our citizens and communities that have been severely affected."

In Boone's Chapel, Ala., three adult family members were killed on Friday night when a tornado ripped through homes in the community.

"The tornado hit and jumped and hit and jumped again," said Autauga County Chief Deputy Sheriff Joe Sedinger to The Associated Press. "It would do some damage and then move on."

Since Thursday there have been reports of 116 tornadoes across 8 states, and four separate tornadoes hit west-central Alabama in less than 6 hours, according to emergency management director Kevin McKinney.

The deadly line of storms ripped through the south starting on Thursday in Oklahoma, where five tornados were reported, before moving to Arkansas.

In Arkansas, the death toll increased to seven after Little Rock police spokesman Terry Hastings said a mother and her 8-year-old son were killed overnight by a tree that fell on their home.

A boy, 6, in Bald Knob, Ark., was killed when a tree fell on his home. In Garland County, a 24-year-old man and his 18-month-old daughter were killed after a tree struck by lightning fell on their mobile home.

"I didn't think it would happen to a friend of mine," said Kasey Neal, who lived nearby, "but now we're standing here talking about the loss of a friend and their little girl that they'll never get back."

In eastern Arkansas, Lardelah Anderson, 64, of the town of Colt, was killed when strong winds during a thunderstorm flipped her double-wide trailer onto its roof. Her 65-year-old husband was taken to the hospital with injuries.

Two elderly sisters were killed when a tornado struck Tushka, Okla., late Thursday night. The twister chewed a path a mile wide and nine miles long through the southeast Oklahoma town.

With only minutes before the storm hit, Randy Walker and his family scrambled into a storm shelter.

"That's when this tree fell," he said. "It sounded like an explosion."

The 100-year-old oak trapped him and his family for an hour and a half until neighbors used a chainsaw to free them. The Walkers found their home in ruins.

Twister Destroys Schools in Tushka

Tushka Public School Principal Matt Simpson said the twister leveled five school buildings, including the town's only elementary and high schools. For fifth-grader Ryley Godfrey and 400 other students, the school year came to a halt.

"It's just horrible," Godfrey said. "It's all gone. No more school. Bye-bye."

Superintendent Bill Pingleton said the town would rebuild. "This little old school has been here a long time. It's the heartbeat of our community. You'd have to hang me up from a tall tree if we didn't try our darndest to put this thing back together and we will," he said.

In North Texas, strong thunderstorms interrupted power to about 90,000 homes and businesses. And rough weather hit Kansas with high winds reported in far western areas of the state.

This outbreak caps a week of nasty weather across the center of the country. South Dakota was hit with spring snow while parts of Wisconsin suffered tornadoes.

And in North Dakota and Minnesota, the swollen Red River has swallowed roads and farms and cut off some residents from their neighbors.

ABC News' Clayton Sandell and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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