BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Relentless winds and rain pummeled large swaths of the South on Tuesday, causing tornadoes, sparking a flash flood emergency in Alabama and damaging homes from Texas to Virginia. The storms prompted boat rescues, toppled trees and power lines and raised the threat of flash floods elsewhere in the region. The National Weather Service issued the flash flood emergency for the Birmingham, Alabama, area at the start of rush hour, warning that torrential rains—as much as 5 inches in some areas—had already fallen and another 2 inches were possible before the storm system continued eastward. Jefferson County Emergency Management officials in the Birmingham area urged residents to stay off the roads because so many were flooded. In the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, residents huddled on the second-floor balcony of an apartment complex that became flooded. Fire department rescuers in a small boat paddled through the parking lot past submerged cars, slowly removing at least 13 people from the flooding. Some were taken out with their pets. Strong winds blowing behind a line of storms were toppling trees across central Alabama, where soil was saturated with water.
Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as corners of Arkansas and Georgia were at enhanced risk for the worst weather, according to the national Storm Prediction Center. That zone is home to more than 11 million people and includes the cities of Nashville, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jackson, Mississippi, forecasters said. “We’ll see all three threats as far as hail, wind and tornadoes on Tuesday,” said Mike Edmonston, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Mississippi. The storms have been responsible for three deaths this week and, as of Tuesday evening, more than 350,000 customers were without power from Texas to Maryland, including 143,000 in Mississippi and 76,000 in Virginia, according to poweroutage.us. Alabama Power Co. reported some 93,000 homes and businessess without electricity statewide. With warnings about possible tornadoes stretching from Louisiana eastward, dozens of school systems in Mississippi and Alabama dismissed students early so buses and cars would not have to be on the road during potentially violent weather.