Apparent tornadoes hit Alabama homes, prison

JAY REEVES Published:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Apparent tornadoes destroyed houses, sent people to hospitals and tore up the roof of a maximum security prison in northern Alabama as bad weather threatened more twisters across the region Friday, two days after a storm system killed 13 people in the Midwest and South.

Anxiety mounted from Georgia to southern Ohio across a wide swath where forecasters said severe weather could hit later in the day. Thousands of schoolchildren in several states were sent home early as a precaution. Meanwhile, residents in parts of Illinois hit hard by the previous round of storms salvaged what they could from damaged homes.

In the Huntsville area, at least four people were taken to area hospitals, and several houses were leveled by what authorities believed were tornadoes Friday morning. The extent of the people's injuries wasn't immediately known, and emergency crews were continuing to survey damaged areas. WAFF-TV aired video of crushed homes.

An apparent tornado also damaged a state maximum security prison about 10 miles from Huntsville, but no inmates escaped. Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said there were no reports of injuries, but the roof was damaged on two large prison dormitories that each hold about 250 men.

"It was reported you could see the sky through the roof of one of them," Corbette said.

A portion of the prison fence was knocked down, but the prison was secure, he said.

The Limestone Correctional Facility in Capshaw houses more than 2,100 inmates, including more than 200 inmates who have tested positive for HIV and are kept segregated. The perimeter fence surrounds 90 acres of the prison that opened in 1984. A farming and cattle operation lie elsewhere on the sprawling 1,600-acre grounds owned by the prison, according to state Department of Corrections.

Forecasters warned of severe thunderstorms with the threat of tornadoes crossing a region from southern Ohio through much of Kentucky into Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.

Schools sent students home early or cancelled classes entirely in states including Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky. In Alabama alone, more than 20 school systems say they are dismissing classes early Friday because of the possibility of severe storms. Otherwise, the bad weather could hit around the time schools normally dismiss for the day, based on predictions from the National Weather Service.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.