Image: Residents salvage furniture after twister
Curtis Compton  /  Atlanta Journal Constitution
Marvin Kinnett, left, and Gregory Ingram salvage furniture as they help Willie Gilbert, background, pick through the remains of his mobile home in Hancock County, Ga., on Thursday.
NBC News and news services
updated 2/19/2009 12:58:04 PM ET 2009-02-19T17:58:04

One person was killed and at least 16 were injured when fierce thunderstorms swept Georgia and Alabama overnight with tornadoes, hail and lightning, downing trees and power lines.

The storms started late Wednesday and uprooted trees and downed power lines in dozens of counties.

"It looks like a B-52 bomber went over," said Howard Sills, sheriff of Georgia's Putnam County. "The buildings are completely disintegrated."

Authorities reported at least three confirmed tornadoes in Georgia. An apparent tornado uprooted trees in Geneva in southern Alabama.

A spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said one twister killed a man in Hancock County in east-central Georgia.

The victim was swept out of a mobile home, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Hancock officials as saying. His wife and two children were injured.

'Held on to each other tight'
Another resident, Willie Gilbert, said he huddled in the corner of his mobile home with his wife and son even as the storm blew it apart, the Journal Constitution reported.

The family then fled and "held on to each other tight … that’s the only thing that saved us," Gilbert said.

A nearby church and other mobile homes were also destroyed by the twister.

Kent McMullen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said one confirmed tornado cut a 7-mile swath through rural Jasper County with winds of up to 100 mph.

At least 10 people were injured and as many as 100 structures were damaged in Jasper County, emergency managers said.

Two other twisters touched down in Taylor County and at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, south of Macon, McMullen said.

Schools damaged
The storms also damaged at least two schools in Fayette County south of Atlanta.

High winds and golf-ball sized hail produced spotty damage to homes and cars in Gwinnett, South Fulton, Henry, Spalding, Coweta and Fayette counties, officials said.

Across Georgia, roughly 13,400 homes and businesses lost power during the height of the storm. Much of it was restored by Thursday morning.

The storms might just be a preview of the spring tornado season. A record outbreak of 21 tornadoes struck the state on March 1, 2007, wrecking a hospital in Americus and killing nine people. A tornado struck downtown Atlanta on March 14 last year, causing millions of dollars in damage, and some buildings still have broken windows.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Severe storms

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