— North Carolina avoided any major damage after a strong storm system moved throughout the southeastern part of the United States.
Heavy rain began falling Thursday night and continued through the overnight hours. Some parts of central North Carolina experienced sporadic power outages. Several schools are operating on a two-hour delay. Up-to-the-minute information is available on the .
The burst of tornadoes was part of a larger line of thunderstorms and snowstorms that stretched from Minnesota to the Gulf Coast. Authorities blamed a tornado for the death of a 7-year-old girl in Missouri, and twisters were reported in Kansas.
In Enterprise, Ala., Mayor Kenneth Boswell said eight teenagers were killed when a tornado struck a local high school. Officials said the a roof and wall collapsed at the school.
At City Hall late Thursday, anxious parents waited for news of their children. One man passed out when he was told his son had died, collapsing to the floor as a dozen people surrounded him. He regained consciousness a short time after, screaming for his son.
A counselor on hand said the man was a soldier slated to return to Iraq in June. His 16-year-old son was an honors student who called his mother on his cell phone five minutes before the storm hit to say they were being moved.
Tears and sobs could be seen and heard from others throughout the government building.
In the chaotic hours after the storm, as many as 18 people were reported dead. Officials later confirmed at least five were killed at the school, but declined to give an exact number late Thursday, saying the search was ongoing.
State emergency management spokeswoman Yasamie Richardson said miscommunication was to blame for the erroneous death toll.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter at a church in Enterprise, where about 75 people spent the night, said Jeffery Biggs, executive of the Covington County chapter.
"For the situation to be what it is, it's going good here," said Biggs. "This is the biggest thing we've had in this region for quite a while."
Barbour Alexander came to the shelter after a tree came through the kitchen of the home she shares with her husband and children. They couldn't return home because of a gas leak.
"It blew the whole porch out," Alexander said.
A tornado watch was in effect in 16 counties in eastern South Carolina until 8 a.m. Friday as strong wind and driving rain swept into the state. The worst of the weather was expected to move off the coast by about sunrise.
No tornadoes had been reported, but a wind gust of 56 mph was reported in Columbia in the overnight hours.
At least 25,000 customers lost electricity at some point as the storms moved across the state, mostly in the Columbia area.
The tornadoes were the second to devastate a portion of the South this year. In early February, tornadoes ripped through a 30-mile path in central Florida, killing 21 and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.