The severe weather has killed at least 18 people, destroyed homes, and broken records for rainfall. But the threat wasn't over: Residents in northern Alabama were in for moderate to severe flooding Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
The death toll increased from 15 to 18 Saturday after Mississippi authorities announced two people missing in Benton County were confirmed dead, and after the coroner in Coffee County, Alabama, told NBC affiliate WSFA that the body of a 5-year-old in a car that was swept away in floodwaters Friday was recovered. A 22-year-old man also in the car is missing.
Major flooding was forecast for Big Nance Creek, which runs through the town of Courtland. The creek isn't expected to fall below flood stage until Monday.
And a flood warning remained in effect for the Coosa River, which was threatening the city of Gadsen.
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Meanwhile, in the tiny town of Elba in southern Alabama, volunteers distributed sandbags around the Pea River, projected to crest Saturday at 43 feet — a foot below the levees surrounding it. A volunteer evacuation order was issued.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley toured Elba Saturday and met with families whose homes had flooded. Two people are missing in the floodwaters, he said.
The governor, who on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Alabama, said 190 roads were closed throughout the state Saturday, impacting every county. He planned to tour other affected areas later in the day.
As conditions improve today, I encourage Alabamians to stay away from flooded areas and do not drive through the water.
Four people had been transported to local hospitals with minor injuries, said Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker.
Birmingham’s city government said earlier that several structures had been destroyed and that first responders were working to rescue people from the debris. Friday's twister had a preliminary rating of EF-2, with winds of up to 130 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Severe flooding also hit much of the city, with crews using boats to rescue people from submerged cars.
Severe flooding throughout the city. Crews en route with boats as rain continues
Utility company Alabama Power said 10,000 customers were without electricity in Birmingham and west of the city as of Friday night because of the storms. By Saturday, crews had restored power to all but 1,600 customers, the company said.
Also on Christmas Day, a tornado touched down outside Pineville, Mississippi, damaging a chicken house.
In total, there were around 25 tornadoes during the southern storm system that started Wednesday: Approximately 20 on Wednesday, one on Thursday, and three on Friday, Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, told NBC News.
The first tornado was an EF-1 and struck in Van Buren County, Arkansas, at 8:20 a.m. local time on Wednesday. The bulk of the storms occurred later in the afternoon in Mississippi, including an EF-3 tornado that formed around 3 p.m. ET in northern Mississippi, and moved along a 145-mile track into southern Tennessee.
Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News.
Cassandra Vinograd is a Senior Writer and News Editor. Before joining NBC News, she worked as a London-based correspondent for The Associated Press and specialized in politics, foreign affairs and defense.
Vinograd previously worked as an editor for The Wall Street Journal in Brussels and London.
She has reported extensively from Afghanistan and on West Africa and the Middle East.
Ali Gostanian is a New York-based reporter with NBC News' Social Newsgathering team.
Mark Potter is an NBC News correspondent based in Miami where he reports for NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt, TODAY, MSNBC and NBCNews.com. He joined NBC News as a staff correspondent in 2004.
During his more than 40-year journalism career, Potter has reported from all over the United States, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, including Haiti, Cuba and Mexico. He has also worked in NBC's London and Hong Kong Bureaus, and has reported from China, the South Pacific, the Philippines and Israel. Much of his career was spent with investigative units at both the national and regional levels, and he has reported on topics including politics, narcotics, immigrant smuggling, environmental issues, natural disasters, international conflicts and numerous high-profile court cases.
Among the stories he has covered are the Cuban Mariel boatlift, the Grenada invasion, the arrest and trial of Panama's General Manuel Noriega, the Mexican and Colombian drug wars, the Haitian immigration crisis, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Hezbollah-Israeli war, the 1980's Miami riots and cocaine crisis, the Theodore Bundy murder trial, the Oklahoma City and Atlanta Centennial Park bombing investigations, the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the Everglades Valujet crash, scores of hurricanes, the Armero volcano disaster in Colombia, the Central American conflicts, the Elian Gonzalez legal battle, several Papal trips, the right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo, the Gianni Versace murder, the U.S. heroin epidemic, the Southwest border-security debate, the U.S.-Cuban political opening and the dramatic prison-tunnel escape of Mexican kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
For 15 years, prior to working at NBC News, Potter was a correspondent for ABC News, reporting for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Nightline and Good Morning America. He also worked for CNN, where among other duties he served as contributing correspondent for the Emmy-Award winning magazine show, CNN and Time.
Potter is the recipient of the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award, a Robert F. Kennedy Award, an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award, National Headliner Awards, the 2011 national Emmy Award for "Mexico: The War Next Door," a 2015 Emmy Award for "Hooked: America's Heroin Epidemic," numerous Emmy nominations, and six regional Emmy Awards. He also received a 2015 National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence Award.
Potter has often appeared as a guest lecturer in journalism classes at the University of Miami, the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas. His work is also featured in "Square Grouper," a 2011 documentary film about South Florida marijuana smugglers, and in “Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded,” a 2014 documentary about drug-related violence in Miami and Colombia.
Potter was graduated from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and then worked for three local television stations in Evansville, Ind., and Miami before joining network news in 1983.
The Associated Press and Elisha Fieldstadt contributed.