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Tornadoes sweep the South, killing at least four people

Tornadoes were reported in Mississippi, destroying homes and businesses and knocking out power to thousands Tuesday evening. 

Emergency workers in Mississippi planned to go out Christmas Eve and survey the damage caused by storms that hit the South a day earlier, killing at least four people, flipping over cars, knocking out power to thousands and damaging several homes and businesses.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared an emergency for two southeastern counties where officials say four people died in the storms and 50 people were injured. Thousands remained without power Wednesday around Columbia, which is about 80 miles southeast of Jackson, officials said.

The storm system spawned at least two tornadoes, reports CNN. "If today's storm deaths prove to all have been caused by tornadoes, it will become the deadliest December tornado event in Mississippi since 38 died in the Vicksburg tornado of Dec. 5, 1953," according to Weather Channel senior digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen.

In all, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center relayed a total of 69 storm reports across the Deep South on Tuesday. Most of those were wind damage reports, but there were 14 tornado reports as well. Keep in mind that those are just reports, not confirmed tornadoes, and the final tornado count is likely to be fewer than 14.

Marion County Emergency Management director Aaron Greer said one woman was killed Tuesday night in a mobile home and a second woman died in a business south of Columbia that was hit by the storm. Greer said Wednesday storm's path was about a half a mile wide and one to one and a half miles long.

Greer said the 50 people injured in county were being treated at Marion General Hospital in Columbia and Forest General Hospital in Hattiesburg. He did not know the extent of the injuries.

Summer Davis with the Jones County Emergency Management office said a man and woman were killed inside a mobile home in the Calhoun community west of Laurel.

Davis said the storm damage was confined to a small area with damage to other homes.

"The whole town of Columbia is without power," Millie Swann, a spokeswoman for Marion General Hospital said. "The hospital is running on generator (power), but was able to treat people in the ER unless they needed a higher level of care."

Eight patients were transferred to a hospital in nearby Hattiesburg.

Swann said the hospital's emergency room has since quieted.

"Any time there's an event like this things get hectic, but health care people are used to working under pressure," she said.

Photos tweeted by from several local media and the National Weather Service in Jackson showed damage to a Walgreens, car dealership, day care and the strip mall. Several local news outlets said none of the children at the day care were injured.

Meteorologist Latrice Maxie said significant damage has been reported to many homes and businesses in the city of about 6,500 people. A survey team would be sent Wednesday to determine whether a tornado was responsible, she said. Storm spotters said it was.

"It's chaos over here," Marion County coroner Norma Williamson said. "All the lines are down."

Mississippi Highway Patrol Lt. Johnny Poulos said authorities have shut down the three highways that lead into Columbia because of downed trees, power lines and other debris.

Most of Georgia was under a flood watch as thunderstorms moved across the state Wednesday morning. Several counties in south Georgia were also under a tornado watch as severe storms moved into the state from Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

In Alabama, authorities said thunderstorms left trees and power lines down across the state and flooded several roads. The National Weather Service early Wednesday issued a flash flood warning for parts of three counties in southeast Alabama, an area which includes the city of Dothan.

Earlier Tuesday, according to local media reports, a tornado touched down in Amite, Louisiana, downing several power lines and trees and tearing the roof off at least one home. Golf ball-sized hail fell in Enterprise, Mississippi, along with some pea-sized hail in the Bude area.

Meanwhile in Tallahassee, Florida, the weather service tweeted that travel was strongly discouraged and that several water rescues were in progress. At least 6 inches of rain had hit the area in a short time.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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