By Jay Reeves
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — High winds and a possible twister blew town trees and knocked out power in rural Alabama as strong storms moved across the state Thursday after causing at least one death in Mississippi.
Several roads were blocked by fallen trees and utility poles in Pickens County near the state line, but no injuries are being reported. Winds also toppled trees in Cullman, Fayette, Walker and Winston counties, officials said.
With winds gusting around 30 mph and above, it wasn't immediately clear whether straight-line winds or twisters were to blame for the damage.
Workers at Jo Gunn Enterprises, an antenna company in the Ethelsville community, scurried outside to move their vehicles just before hail the size of golf balls began falling.
"We got them inside; we were fortunate," said worker Melanie Dill. "I'm on a battery backup now (because) we're out of power."
The weather service began issuing a series of watches and warnings as storms moved into Alabama from the west. The storms didn't reach Birmingham until around the afternoon rush hours, causing traffic headaches in the state's most populous area.
About 50 school systems in central and north Alabama dismissed classes early as a precaution, and dozens of private schools did the same thing. A few government offices and businesses also closed early, and several public storm shelters opened in north Alabama.
Forecasters said the storms brought a risk of tornadoes, flooding and damaging winds, particularly in central Alabama. Officials said one person was killed and several people were injured after a reported tornado struck Kemper County in eastern Mississippi.
In Mobile, where the disabled Carnival cruise ship Triumph is docked while undergoing repairs, officials hoped tug boats and mooring lines would prevent a repeat of last week's accident in which the 900-foot-long ship broke free during a storm.
"We're pretty secure over here. I think it will be safe," said Sheila Gurganus, manager of the Alabama Cruise Terminal, where the ship was docked after becoming loose at BAE Support Systems, a repair complex.
A shipyard worker thrown into the water after the Triumph broke free and struck a wharf still has not been located, and the Coast Guard called off its search for the man. Another worker was injured.