Emergency crews searched for survivors and victims in north Georgia early Thursday after a tornado ripped through Catoosa County, killing at least seven people. At least four other people died in Georgia in storm-related incidents.
In Alabama, the death toll continued to climb. Early Thursday Gov. Robert Bentley's office said 128 people were dead in the state, many of them in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, site of the University of Alabama. Mississippi reported 32 dead.
There were reports of people still trapped in buildings in Ringgold early Thursday. In neighboring Dade County, two people died in the storms. Two people are reported dead in Griffin, south of Atlanta.
Catoosa County officials said in a statement released early Thursday that 30 people had been taken to local hospitals, and "at this time, emergency personnel are still searching the area for survivors."
Ringgold Middle and High schools were damaged, and county schools will be closed the rest of the week.
A hotel and row of restaurants just off I-75 in Ringgold took a direct hit from the tornado.
"You could see lightning in the air, but you couldn't hear the thunder, that's how loud [the tornado] was," said Terreance Adams, the manager of the Holiday Inn Express, which sits just behind the Super 8 hotel heavily damaged by the storm.
Adams said that about 400 people from the Super 8 and the damaged restaurants took refuge in the lobby and hallways of his hotel immediately after the tornado struck at 8:19 p.m.
"I had a woman whose truck flipped over, and she had a pelvis broken and a broken leg," he said.
Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency covering Floyd, Dade, Catoosa and Walker counties. His spokesman, Brian Robinson, said that list would likely grow as the wave of storms continued to push across the state early Thursday.
In Spalding County, the devastation was widespread. Michael Powers, owner of Atlanta Lift Truck Salvage in Sunnyside, said his 10,000-square-foot building was "destroyed, gone."
"Thank God for insurance and thank God we'll be able to rebuild and come back stronger," he said. "It's gonna be all right."
Natalie Duncan, who works at the Minuteman Shell in Sunnyside, said "my son called me at 2:20 and told me the Minuteman was gone."
Meanwhile, parts of metro Atlanta remained under the gun for severe weather early Thursday, as weather radar indicated possible tornadoes moving through the southern and eastern suburbs.
Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz reported just before 1:30 a.m. that radar indicated a tornado possibly on the ground in Newton County, while a second tornado had possibly touched down near Monticello.
In Georgia, multiple rounds of storms also pounded Floyd County, damaging buildings on the campuses of both Berry College and Shorter University and leaving thousands without electricity.
Georgia Power spokeswoman Carol Boatright said 56,000 customers were without power statewide, mostly in the hard-hit northwest. There were sporadic outages in Atlanta caused by downed trees and branches, primarily in the south metro communities of Stockbridge and Ellenwood, she said.
There were also multiple reports Wednesday night of residents injured and trapped in homes that were destroyed when the storms swept through Bartow County around 9:30. Several tractor-trailers were flipped over alongside I-75 north of Cartersville.
Shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday, the Spalding County 911 center reported extensive damage on the west side of the county, with entrapments and injuries.
The National Weather Service said that Monroe County officials reported that three tractor-trailers were blown off I-75 and motorists were trapped in vehicles when a tornado hit the county at 1 a.m.
While the threat of severe weather continued into the early morning hours south and east of Atlanta, Nitz said that counties to the northwest were in the clear at 1:30 a.m.
AJC staffers John Spink and Scott Peacocke and the Associated Press contributed to this article