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Alabama's governor issues a state of emergency for counties hit by tornadoes

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Deadly tornadoes touched down in Alabama yesterday, leaving behind extensive damage and killing at least six people in the state, according to the local authorities. Alabama's governor has issued a state of emergency for counties impacted by the storms. One of the first cities the tornado hit is often in the news for other reasons. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott went to Selma after the storm passed and has this report.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: When I got to Selma, traffic was at a standstill. The storm had cut a path through town and closed some of the major intersections. Usually, Selma has heavy traffic during the annual commemoration of the 1965 Bloody Sunday march. On that day, Alabama state troopers beat protesters, like the late Congressman John Lewis, as they marched for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On Thursday, cars crowded the streets for a different reason. Some were driven by parents anxious to check on their kids and pick them up from school. Margaret Jones, principal of the Edgewood Elementary School, gets this.

MARGARET JONES: Today was - to sum it up in a nutshell, it was traumatic. It was a surprise.

GASSIOTT: Jones said they heard that some of the homes of their students have been destroyed. Downtown, traffic lights have stopped working, the power is out, and businesses and homes are leveled. The interim fire chief says his team conducted 30 rescues for people who were trapped. Victims' safety is on the mind of Emergency Services Director Toya Stiles Caruso. Her phone was out when her family tried to call her.

TOYA STILES CARUSO: But unfortunately, they did not get in contact with me. So my focus was on the citizens of Dallas County to make sure that they are safe.

GASSIOTT: But Caruso reassures me that her family is OK. The tornado has hit Selma the day before the start of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, a time that residents mark the birthday of the civil rights leader who spent a lot of time here. This weekend, in addition to the commemoration, they'll start the process of rebuilding.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Selma, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle Gassiott