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Tupelo Mississippi Tornado: Mall Damaged, Power Lines Down

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A line of severe storms swept across the Southeast on Thursday, damaging homes and businesses in at least three states. No injuries were reported.

An apparent tornado wrecked a shopping area in Mississippi and strong winds flipped a mobile home in Alabama. In south-central Tennessee, at least four homes and a few barns were damaged. Portions of Alabama remained under tornado watches until early Thursday evening.

In Alabama, at least 15 school systems released students early, while others held students late as squalls passed. Winds blew a piece of metal roofing off Hamilton High School, about 90 miles northwest of Birmingham.

"For 10 minutes, it was pretty good wind with lightning and thunder and rain blowing sideways," said Todd Page, who works at a car dealership in Hamilton.

There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes in Alabama but winds gusting up to 60 mph flipped a mobile home, said George Grabryan, emergency management director in Lauderdale County. A house and a building in the rural county were also damaged.

In Tupelo, Miss., an apparent tornado wrecked a furniture store where William Felks and Allan Jackson had to brace themselves during the storm.

"Me and Allan hid behind a door, and I was holding on to his belt as tight as I could. Then in seconds it stopped," Felks told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. "It took less than a minute to mess this whole building up. Man, I was scared."

A home improvement store and a farm supply retailer near Tupelo were also damaged, said Paul Harkins, Lee County's director of emergency communications. "There were power lines and trees down around it and a car was lifted off the ground and pushed into a tree," Harkins said.

The same weather system struck Oklahoma a day earlier.

Severe weather experts there picked through debris and damage Thursday to determine whether tornadoes touched down after severe storms moved through the state, toppling trees and knocking out power to thousands of people.

A tornado reported near the southern Oklahoma town of Paoli apparently picked up a mobile home off the ground with a woman and her son inside, said Garvin County Emergency Management Director Buck Pearson.

The woman, Cindy Ward, suffered some broken toes and was bruised, but the boy was not hurt. Ward managed to get her son into an interior closet just before the storm hit the home.

"There was no shaking, no rattling, no sound like a freight train," Ward told the Pauls Valley Daily Democrat. "It wasn't a calm before the storm. It just pickled it up and slammed it down. The only noise we heard was 'kaboom' when the house landed."

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Associated Press writers Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City and Chris Talbott in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.