The T-shaped system first swept across the nation's midsection Wednesday night and pummeled portions of Missouri, where the National Weather Service said Thursday that an EF-2 tornado appears to have damaged dozens of homes in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood. That category of tornado generally packs winds of 113 to 157 mph.
Derek Cody, an amateur storm chaser who works at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, just south of Shuqualak (pronounced SHUG-a-lock), told The Associated Press that he drove north to the small town to try to catch a glimpse of the tornado.
He said he got out of his car on U.S. 45 just as the twister was approaching the highway, only to be hit by a strong gust of wind moving into the storm that almost knocked him over.
"I kind of sat there and hoped it would cross right in front of me," Cody said. "It was just a black mass that moved across the road."
Cody said that the center of Shuqualak, an eastern Mississippi town of 500 people, was unaffected. But he said a gas station and about 10 or so houses west of the town center were damaged. He said one house was "completely flattened" with debris blown across the road.
As the system was moving through the Southeast, high winds knocked over trees and power lines in rural west Alabama and eastern Mississippi. About 50 school systems in central and north Alabama sent students home early, and a few government offices and businesses also closed early.