NWS confirms tornado touchdowns in Calhoun, Sumter counties

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The National Weather Service has confirmed that two EF1 tornados touched down in Calhoun and Sumter counties Thursday morning with wind gusts around 100 mph.

There were numerous reports of downed trees and power lines in the area. Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers said most of those incidents were reported in the Ft. Motte area, in the northern part of the county. He said there were no injuries reported or structural damage at this time.

In Sumter, the tornado's path is about 12 miles long and is believed to be part of the same tornado that hit Calhoun County. Wind speeds hit 90 mph, with a path about 20 yards wide. Officials said the main damage was tree damage and the siding on a house.

Straight line winds are to blame for storm damage in St. Matthews, according to the National Weather Service. It said wind speeds were around 85 miles per hour.

The Sumter County Sheriff's Office also reported storm damage that was contained to the southeastern portion of the county. Downed trees could be found along Highway 15 near Pack Road. Chief Deputy Hampton Gardner said a deputy's vehicle also received moderate damage after a tree limb struck it. He said most of the damage was the result of high winds. The National Weather Service is on its way to the area to survey the storm damage.

An SCE&G spokesperson said as of 7:00 a.m. Thursday, more than 1,600 people were without power because of the storm.

A tornado watch is still in effect until 8:00pm for Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Marion and Williamsburg counties.

Emergency management officials reported property damage, including a roof ripped off of a house near Lenoir, as a line of storms moves through the Carolinas. No serious injuries were reported.

Caldwell County spokeswoman LouAnne Kincade said several homes were damaged early Thursday near Lenoir. Trees and power lines fell. Several roads were closed.

Henderson, Transylvania, Macon and Burke counties all reported tornado sightings. Trees and power lines were reported down in those areas, as well as Caldwell, Guilford and Madison counties.

Hail and funnel clouds were reported from storms Wednesday evening near Greensboro, N.C., but no major damage was reported.

A tornado touched down in Cullman, Alabama around 3:00 p.m., moving through the downtown area and leaving behind significant damage in its wake. "Debris was flying everywhere," said Ashley Nix. "There is no doubt there's more damage in the county."

Traffic came to a standstill, trees and power lines were down "everywhere," making most of the roads impassable. The Cullman Courthouse was damaged, as were the First Federal Bank, First Baptist Church and at least one home.

The funnel cloud passed right over the hospital and there have been some unconfirmed reports of structural damage to the hospital. There were reports of unconfirmed injuries and Nix described reports of people giving CPR in the streets.

Crews have blocked off the entire downtown area and are working to repair the damage.

At least 16 people have been killed by the powerful storms battering the South.

There have been deaths reported from Arkansas to Alabama, where there have been five deaths. Alabama's governor says there could be a half-dozen more deaths.

The victims include a police officer who was camping with his daughter in Mississippi. He was struck by a tree while trying to shield his daughter. The 9-year-old wasn't injured.

Aiken Electric Cooperative is sending two four-man crews to assist with storm restoration at Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative in Rainsville, Alabama, according to Aiken Electric CEO Gary Stooksbury. Aiken Electric had only scattered outages throughout their nine-county service territory during the severe weather that moved through the area earlier today.

The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina estimated that Alabama electric co-ops have as many as 300,000 outages with a large number of broken poles. Some of the outages are due to TVA's downed transmission lines and poles, but several Alabama co-ops have zero meters turning.

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Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved. AP and WBRC contributed to this report.