Wed, 21 Nov 2012 13:34 UTC
More than 200 homes were destroyed, the Red Cross said, and as many were damaged.
Jefferson County appeared hardest hit, especially the town of Clay, where the National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado with 150-mph winds had struck. "We have major, major damage," said a Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency official, Bob Ammons, in reference to the region.
Two people were confirmed killed in the county, and officials were looking at a report of a third death there as well.
In the town of Center Point, the elementary school was 80 percent destroyed and officials said it would have to be bulldozed, The Birmingham News reported.
Last April, massive tornadoes tore through Alabama killing 241 people, including 64 in the Jefferson and Tuscaloosa areas.
The storms flattened homes and peeled off roofs in the middle of the night in the rural community of Oak Grove. As dawn broke, residents surveyed the damage and began cleaning up across parts of central Alabama, an area that has a history of tornadoes going back decades.
In a sign that Alabama has become all too familiar with severe weather, officials had to reschedule a meeting Monday to receive a report on their response to deadly twisters last spring.
Alabama's governor declared a state of emergency for the entire state.
Oak Grove was hit hard last April, though officials said none of the same neighborhoods was struck again.
Amber Butler and her family hid in her sister's brick home as the storm approached. Butler's own home was destroyed.
"I am just so speechless now, I don't know what to do," she said. "God Bless our friends and neighbors who have come to help. We've lost everything we had."
Butler lived near 83-year-old Bobby Frank Sims, who was killed when his home was leveled by a tree.
In Clay, northeast of Birmingham, 16-year-old Christina Nicole Heichelbech died, the Jefferson County coroner's office said. Rescue workers said her parents were injured.
The storm system stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, producing hail, strong winds and rain. Possible tornadoes were reported in Arkansas on Sunday night.
In Alabama, searchers went door-to-door calling out to residents, many of whom were trapped by trees that crisscrossed their driveways.
Jefferson County, where Oak Grove and Clay are located, suffered the most damage, followed by Chilton County, with most of the damage around Maplesville.
Oak Grove, a sprawling unincorporated area in the western part of the county was nearly wiped out on April 8, 1998, by a powerful tornado that killed 34 people and left about 260 people injured. It spread a wide path of destruction that left much of the previously heavily wooded western section of the county looking barren. The tornado destroyed Oak Grove High School, which has been rebuilt.
This general section of Jefferson County has been infamous for destructive tornadoes dating back to the 1930s.
State Climatologist John Christy said there seems to be a general path from central Mississippi going into north Alabama that gets attention for a large number of tornadoes - and their intensity. One theory has to do with the distance from the Gulf of Mexico, just far enough to be effected by cold air coming from the north.
"It's the frequency and intensity of the storms that tend to align on this corridor," said Christy, a professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.