Mary Anna Hite, 76, watched the tornado touch down from the drive-thru window in her business, PAC Fiber, a broadband company.
“I told myself this can’t be happening,” she told USA TODAY.
She watched as the tornado dipped to the ground and back up 2 miles away from her business. Trucks in a parking lot were lifted, and residents had tree branches fall on their homes.
“Coming out and seeing the destruction has me still in shock,” Hite said. “This is such an unusual occurrence.”
Tuesday’s tornado was among powerful storms that killed at least three people across the South, and the region braced for another day of severe weather on Wednesday.
The storms were blamed for killing people in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.
Louisiana state police said Gene Latin, a 65-year-old correctional officer, was killed early Tuesday when he crashed into a tree that had fallen across a highway as storms blew through Webster Parish. And in east Texas, 71-year-old W. M. Soloman died when storm winds toppled a tree onto his home in Whitehouse, said Mayor James Wansley.
In Bryan County, about 30 miles west of Savannah, a woman was found dead Tuesday night amid the shredded wreckage of her mobile home in the unincorporated community of Ellabell, said Bryan County Coroner Bill Cox.
“It was just completely ripped to pieces,” Cox said Wednesday. “It’s like it exploded.”
Following Tuesday’s storms, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Wednesday, effectively freeing up state resources for storm recovery and response efforts.
The severe weather threat was forecast to continue Wednesday. The Storm Prediction Center warned that “severe thunderstorms capable of producing swaths of damaging gusts, large hail, and several tornadoes are expected across the Southeast states and near the southern Appalachians this afternoon and evening.”
Parts of Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee will be at greatest risk of severe weather Wednesday. That area of heightened risk includes several large cities, including Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; and Knoxville, Tennessee.
“The atmosphere will be primed again for more severe storms as we go through Wednesday,” said Jared Guyer, a forecaster at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
Flash flooding will also be a concern Wednesday across portions of Georgia, where a flood watch was in effect. The risk for flooding is likely to be greatest in locations that were doused Tuesday and where thunderstorms move over the same areas for several hours, AccuWeather said.
Bobbi Ussery, 67, said there have been so many close calls with tornadoes that she ignored the warnings and alerts until it was too late. Her home, where she’s lived the past 26 years, was hit by a falling tree branch.
Ussery said she kept thinking “it’ll pass us” until her daughter, Toni, said, “Momma, it’s here!”
They went into the hallway of the house when they heard a big bang.
“I’ve never witnessed anything like this,” Toni Ussery, 44, told USA TODAY.
Bobbi Ussery said the tornado was “here and gone so fast.” She said she feels bad for the people in the community who lost everything.
“To go over there to see it will make you cry,” she said.
More severe weather is expected Thursday, forecasters said, mainly in eastern portions of North Carolina and Virginia and in central Florida.