Tate Moudy of Brandon had just walked into the Southern States Utility Trailer Sales office on U.S. Highway 49 in Richland after showing a trailer to a customer when "there was a big bang from a transformer being knocked out and debris started flying through the front door."
The powerful storm overturned 18-wheeler trailers, ripped away part of the roof of the sales office and twisted beams in the building, Moudy said. Employees and others had to remain inside because power lines had fallen across vehicles parked in the lot.
"It was scary, I can tell you that," he said.
The American Medical Response ambulance service, which serves a number of counties in the Jackson area, handled at least 20 storm-related injuries, company spokesman Jim Pollard said. He said he had no immediate information on the nature of the injuries.
At least 90,000 customers of Entergy Mississippi lost power at some point Friday, mostly in and around Jackson, said company spokesman Checky Herrington.
Charles Ware of Canton said he was in his car outside a Home Depot when winds smashed the window of his vehicle and tossed around shopping carts.
"The whole thing was like being in a silent movie," he told the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson. "Your adrenaline is flowing so much you can see all this stuff but you don't hear anything."
Amid scattered damage in north Alabama, no injuries were reported, but forecasters issued a string of severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings through the evening. No touchdowns were confirmed.
School systems throughout the Birmingham area dismissed students ahead of a wave of storms Friday.
Falling trees struck several houses and a nursing home in Cullman, and authorities ordered an evacuation of everyone within a half-mile radius of a downtown area where a gas leak was reported. Workers contained the leak but feared fuel had reached the city's storm sewers.
Power was out throughout town, and officials urged the city's 14,000 residents to conserve water because the treatment plant couldn't operate.
"It came up on us so quickly. Everything happened at once," said Leanne Collins, who works at City Hall.
In Colbert County, emergency management director Mike Melton said power lines and trees were down in a wide area. "There's about a four-mile path of damage," he said.
Winds ripped off roofs in Columbia, La., and thousands of people lost power in the northeastern part of the state.
In Kentucky, rivers and streams surged over their banks as rainfall reached a half-foot in some areas.
Two-year-old Kate Hearod died Friday after her mother rounded a curve before dawn in western Kentucky, drove into high water and lost control of her vehicle, state police said.
Heather Hearod, 22, of Hampton, was able to get out of the vehicle and retrieve her daughter, but as the mother struggled to get out of the floodwaters she became separated from her child and lost sight of her, said state police Trooper Stu Recke. The girl was found nearby and died later at a hospital, he said.
In and near Little Rock, Ark., residents used chainsaws, backhoes and elbow grease to clean up from its latest bout of bad weather - a tornado that swept through Thursday night.
At the North Little Rock Airport, a single-engine Cessna lay on its nose propeller against a fuel truck near the runway Friday. The winds also tore into one metal-sided hangar and cut across the runway heading northeast.
Near Benton, southwest of Little Rock, a dozen homes were destroyed at Hurricane Creek Mobile Home Park - one of them by a fire that erupted when a felled tree caused a gas leak. Emergency workers had trouble responding because downed power lines and trees blocked the main road in.
Benton police Capt. Roger Gaither said 70 trailers suffered some sort of damage.
"It's amazing. It's just totally amazing that no one was really hurt," Gaither said.
Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky., and Jon Gambrell in Cammack Village, Ark., contributed to this report.