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Storms cause damage, deaths, injuries in South

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Severe storms and suspected tornadoes across the South have resulted in structural damage, power outages, injuries and at least six deaths in three states, officials said on Thursday.

Officials confirmed deaths in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia from the extreme weather that swept the region on Wednesday.

A 50-year-old woman and 3-year-old girl died in Davidson County in central North Carolina when an apparent twister destroyed the home they were in, said Major Larry James of Davidson County Emergency Services.

"The house was completely gone," he told Reuters. "The only thing left is the block foundation."

James said 11 other people were injured, and 35 to 50 residences and businesses were damaged.

In a statement, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue said there also were more than a dozen structures damaged in Randolph County from a reported tornado there.

Severe weather, including a possible tornado, was being blamed for three deaths in a rural area near the town of Rock Hill, South Carolina, said York County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Mike Baker.

Five people were taken to hospitals with injuries that were not life-threatening after the Wednesday evening storm, and seven homes were severely damaged or destroyed, Baker said.

"Everyone's been accounted for, but we're continuing to search for personal items," Baker said. "This is very significant damage, and a November tornado, it's an unusual weather occurrence for us."

In suburban Atlanta, a man died Wednesday afternoon when a large pine tree fell on top of the sport utility vehicle he was driving in heavy wind and rain, said Captain Tim House, spokesman for the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office.

"The driver was trapped and mortally wounded," House said.

COLD FRONT ARRIVES

Conditions were favorable for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes on Wednesday, with a cold front hitting unusually warm air and significant moisture existing at lower levels of the atmosphere, weather experts said.

"Typically we see our severe weather season during the spring months, but we also have a secondary peak in November," said Neil Dixon, meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Greenville/Spartanburg in South Carolina.

"In November, we see strong cold fronts," he said. "These strong cold fronts move along from the western Carolinas, and the strong wind shear moves ahead of that."

A series of deadly tornadoes battered the Southeast in April, killing an estimated 364 people. With the latest deaths, the number of tornado fatalities for 2011 will likely top 550, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center.

This year already ranks as the deadliest from tornadoes since the National Weather Service began its database in 1950, he said.

"The number of fatalities this year directly due to tornadoes is 100 times greater than the recent decades' annual average," Carbin said.

Preliminary reports indicate at least 25 twisters hit Southern states between Tuesday and Wednesday, Carbin said. Reports came from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

On Wednesday, at least 15 people were injured in southern Mississippi as storms passed through Jones County, just north of Laurel. Only one of those was transported to an area hospital for treatment, said Don McKinnon, the county's emergency management director.

The American Red Cross said an initial damage assessment in Alabama indicated about 230 homes were affected by severe weather throughout the state, including 16 homes that were destroyed.

(Additional reporting by Verna Gates in Birmingham, Ala, Kelli Dugan in Mobile, Ala, David Beasley in Atlanta and Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C.; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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