While there was a political storm brewing in Washington, D.C., and the entire world's attention was glued to it, people in the southern states of Mississippi and Georgia were trying to put their life back in order.
The two states were pounded by deadly storms killing at least 18 people in Georgia followed by a predawn tornado in Mississippi that killed four. Severe weather also injured more than 50 others and damaged about 480 homes in Mississippi.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency for seven counties in the south-central part of the state, warning that dangerous conditions persisted as wind and flood warnings remained in effect for much of the state.
"I urge all Georgians to exercise caution and vigilance in order to remain safe and prevent further loss of life or injuries,” he said in a news release.
First Baptist Church Adel, located in the Cook County seat near the Florida-Georgia state line, was sheltering more than 50 people, said pastor Bill Marlette, who had just helped inform a family that two of their relatives were among the dead.
"There's a lot of hurting people right now," he said in a telephone interview. "There's just a sense of shock."
The tornado that struck southern Mississippi before dawn caused widespread property damage, state and local officials said as they warned residents to brace for a second round of severe storms.
The twister reduced many buildings to splinters, downed power lines and flipped over numerous cars, according to photographs shared by officials on social media and footage aired by local news outlets.
The tornado ripped a path of destruction 25 miles long and a half-mile wide across parts of four counties. The adjacent towns of Hattiesburg and Petal — about 75 miles north of Biloxi on the Gulf Coast — bore the storm's brunt, authorities said.
"This was a lethal and extremely dangerous storm," said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who issued an emergency declaration for affected areas, adding that he expected to consult with White House officials soon.
On the west coast, heavy rains from a separate system drenched parts of Southern California, with forecasters warning the storm could be the most severe in several years.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Rome and Calhoun until 3.30 a.m. EST, advising residents to move to higher ground.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters