- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

JACKSON, MISS. (AP) - Another barrage of storms hit the Southeast on Thursday, spawning possible tornadoes, causing a passenger train to hit a fallen tree and sending at least one person to the hospital after lightning struck a home.

Flood warnings as well as tornado watches and warnings were in effect around the region.

In south Mississippi, an Amtrak train hit a tree the storm knocked onto the tracks Thursday afternoon south of McComb in Pike County, injuring the conductor, said Carlene Statham, assistant director of Pike County Civil Defense.

The train was headed from Chicago to New Orleans with 71 passengers aboard when it hit the tree, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said. The only report of an injury was the conductor, who complained of back pain.

Only the engine lost contact with the tracks and the “the train is powered, lit and heated,” Magliari said. He said the passengers would be put on chartered buses and taken to their destinations.

The lightning strike happened in Desoto County in north Mississippi and gave the person inside “a pretty good jolt” but the injuries were not life threatening, said Bob Storey, director of the county’s emergency management agency. The resident was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution.

Also, what may have been a funnel cloud was spotted in Pike County and several homes, trees and power lines in the area were damaged, Statham said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, Statham said.

She said the damage at one home was caused when “the wind picked up the back porch and threw it on top of the house.”

Hail ranging in size from golf balls to nickels was reported in areas of central and south-central Mississippi, said Mike Edmonston, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Waves of storms pelted west Alabama with hail and rain, and a suspected tornado damaged a north Alabama trailer park. Morgan County Emergency Management Agency assistant Rita Weeks said the mobile home park at Lacey’s Springs was struck by violent winds Thursday evening, damaging 20 to 30 trailers. She said there were reports of minor injuries but none life-threatening.

Trees and power lines were down and there were reports of scattered damage in several parts of west and north Alabama. The National Weather Service said radar indicated several possible funnel clouds as the storm front moved across much of the state.

School officials in Enterprise, Ala., canceled classes Thursday as a precaution, mindful of a tornado that killed eight students at a high school there two years ago.

Meanwhile, a line of violent thunderstorms moved through the western Florida Panhandle leaving about foot of water on some low-lying streets in the downtown Pensacola business district. Flooding was reported elsewhere in the Panhandle including in Panama City where officials blocked off streets and limited other streets to one lane.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for the Tallahassee area and cities around Florida’s central Panhandle.

“Our primary concern today is more flash flooding,” said public safety director Dino Villani of Okaloosa County, which includes Fort Walton Beach. “Very little rain can cause a lot of problems.”

Cherise Davis, who lives on a road next to the Ochlockonee River about 20 miles west of Tallahassee, said some homeowners closest to the water were preparing to move if necessary. Water wasn’t yet in homes but was getting close, she said.

A river in soggy southeastern Louisiana crested a bit lower than predicted, putting water into streets in a suburban New Orleans parish, but sparing almost all low-lying homes. But officials said the crest would not pass entirely through St. Tammany Parish until early Friday and authorities were patrolling several subdivisions.

Strong storms also moved across Middle Tennessee, producing heavy rain, flooding and a possible tornado. National Weather Service meteorologist John Cohen in Nashville said the agency received a report of a possible tornado at 4:06 p.m. Thursday about seven miles east of downtown Nashville.

The Federal Aviation Administration evacuated the tower at Nashville International Airport and all flight activity was stopped temporarily.

Two tractor trailers overturned on Interstate 40 east of downtown Nashville at about 4:20 p.m., Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Julie Oaks said. Three right lanes were blocked for about three hours, but the drivers were unhurt.

At Centennial Park near downtown Nashville, water was over the wheel wells of cars. Elsewhere, manhole covers popped off because of the water and police closed off a few streets because of flooding.


Associated Press Writer Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., Jay Reeves in Geneva, Ala., and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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