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Storms damage 100 properties across South

A storm front with severe weather settled across the South on Wednesday with heavy rains, a possible tornado in Alabama and damage to about 100 properties throughout the region.
Severe Weather
Danny Wilson helps clean up debris from a neighbor's backyard in Wilson, N.C., on Wednesday. A woman and two children in the home hid in the kitchen pantry as a storm hit Tuesday night. Shawn Rocco / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dozens of homes and businesses were damaged in the South by strong winds, heavy rains and golf ball-sized hail Wednesday, and with more rain in the forecast, officials increased the flow of water through dams to ease swollen rivers, including the Mississippi.

Strong winds downed trees onto mobile homes in Arkansas, where several people suffered broken bones and some classes were canceled. Storm debris blocked roads and damaged houses in north Mississippi and Alabama, with some students sent home early.

Tornado warning sirens interrupted students taking final exams at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and power was knocked out to thousands across the region.

Stiff winds and heavy rains blew through a central Alabama campground near the Mississippi line.

"For a lot of people it was scary enough that they got in the bathhouse," said Margaret Simmons, a gate attendant at the Pickensville Campground. "Our lights are out and our phones and television went out, but we're OK."

No serious injuries were reported.

Authorities said what appeared to be a weak tornado hit west of Huntsville, Ala.

"In the city of Madison we have a path of damage that is about four or five miles long," said the county's emergency management director, Rusty Russell. "It's not major, things like trees down and shingles off buildings. We did have a tree on a trailer, but nobody was hurt."

Rain was still falling, and flooding could become a problem along parts of the Tennessee River.

"Tomorrow is probably going to be the worst of it if the river floods," he said.

Forecasters said winds with gusts estimated at 70 mph knocked down trees and damaged homes in Tuscaloosa County, and a funnel cloud was reported near Hamilton in west Alabama.

Flood watches
The heavy rains soaked grounds already saturated, raising flooding fears. Areas of southeast Mississippi have had up to 10 inches of rain already this month and in north Alabama near Hunstville, nearly eight inches of rain had fallen in May — those amounts on top of about five inches last month.

Many parts of the region were under a flood watch or warning Wednesday, and the nation's largest utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority, temporarily halted dredging coal ash in the rain-swollen Emory River in Tennessee because the current was too swift at the site of a massive spill late last year.

The utility also released water through its dams to prepare for the Mississippi River's expected crest Sunday. The TVA releases the water to create storage room in lakes and ease the threat of river flooding all the way to New Orleans.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marlene Mickelson said Missouri and northwest Tennessee crops could be affected when the river crests, but there would likely be no evacuations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it had allowed more water through Cumberland River dams in Russell, Ky., and Lancaster, Tenn., to help slow the recent rise of lakes.

APTOPIX Weather NC Storms
Rescue workers' lights illuminate a damaged house in the Rock Ridge School Road area of Wilson County, N.C. near the town of Sims on Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Officials said strong thunderstorms and a possible tornado damaged at least a dozen homes in North Carolina.Travis Long / The News & Observer

On Tuesday night, six tornadoes touched down in North Carolina, causing three minor injuries and damage to at least a dozen homes. National Weather Service forecasters said the severe storms could remain through Friday.

"As that moves east, the conditions will become more and more favorable for another round of storms," said Ryan Ellis of the service's Raleigh bureau. "We are looking at unsettled weather all the way through to the weekend."

In the Charlotte area, firefighters made at least 50 water rescues because of flash flooding, but no injuries were reported.