Storms leave trail of damage in Alabama

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Waves of strong storms left damage across a wide area of Alabama on Friday, slamming into homes and businesses and forcing promoters to cancel the first race of a busy weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway.

An apparent tornado damaged a motel in Tuscaloosa and struck an oil change business, blowing the plastic out of large signs and leaving roads crisscrossed with power poles and trees in places.

Sam Packwood said he and his son saw what appeared to be a twister drop out of the sky near Bama Mini Storage, where he works.

"It was a dark funnel coming down," Packwood in a telephone interview. "The sirens went off and all; it was pretty exciting for 20 or 30 minutes. I hope nobody got hurt."

No injuries were immediately reported.

School systems all over central and west Alabama released students early as a precaution. East of Birmingham, promoters postponed an ARCA race at the Talladega Superspeedway, where thousands of people were camping in open fields and getting ready for three days of races.

"It is a dilemma when you have 35,000 people camping on your site," track chairman Grant Lynch told WBRC-TV. Track officials said the race would begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, after the storm system passed.

One person was pinned inside a house that was hit by large tree in Sumter County, but emergency crews had difficulty getting into the community, located near the Mississippi line. "There are trees down to the point where roads are closed," said Margaret A.

Bishop-Gulley, Sumter County's emergency management director.

In Marengo County, emergency management director Kevin McKinney said trees were toppled in a rural area southwest of Linden after a possible tornado moved through the county around lunchtime.

"There are some trees on some houses, a roof off a house," he said.

Storm spotters reported possible tornado damage in seven west Alabama counties. Trees also are blown down as far north as Colbert County in the Tennessee Valley, and authorities reported minor street flooding and jail across the northern tier of counties.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)