A "fairly significant" tornado flattened several homes in northeast Alabama early Tuesday - but downed trees and debris meant rescue crews could not reach victims.
The twister collapsed "multiple structures" in the rural community of Aroney in DeKalb County at about 2 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET), DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency's deputy director Michael Posey said.
"We have reports of significant damage to the area but our crews are having difficulty getting to it," he told NBC News just over an hour after the tornado was reported.
"The crews are cutting through trees and debris as we speak, but right now we don't know exactly how much damage we are dealing with."
The tornado described by Posey appeared to be the same one reported by the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.
The NWS said "several homes [were] heavily damaged or destroyed" by a twister near the small community of Rodentown, which is less than five miles from Aroney.
People took to Twitter to report cellphone outages in the nearby town of Fort Payne, which is the county seat with a population of about 14,000.
The DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency said on its Facebook page that it had only one report of a roof being blown off in the town but encouraged people to take shelter. At 2.38 a.m. (3.38 a.m. ET) it said the threat of tornadoes was over for the morning, but added: "Remember we are expecting another round Tuesday afternoon and evening."
Posey said emergency crews from the county were being backed up by other authorities that had been drafted in to help the operation.
"Reports we have been getting suggest the tornado was fairly significant, but it's too early to speculate about how wide it was or its strength, that's up to the National Weather Service," he added.
First published April 29 2014, 1:33 AM