Authorities reported several injuries and fatalities in Alabama as tornadoes tore through the Birmingham metro area on Thursday. The storms, which come on the heels of roughly 50 tornadoes that hit the region last week, left flattened homes and extensive property damage in their wake.
The National Weather Service received reports of at least 10 twisters on Thursday. Earlier that day, it issued its highest risk for severe weather in Alabama, the agency’s second time doing so in just over a week. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also declared a state of emergency for dozens of counties throughout the state, citing forecasts of strong winds, flooding, hail, and tornadoes.
At least five people were killed across two small towns in Calhoun County, located east of Birmingham, the Washington Post reports.
“It’s just destruction in those areas,” county coroner Pat Brown told the Post.
Several people have been reported missing so far, and search and rescue efforts remain ongoing. More than 35,000 residents across Alabama lost power after strong winds downed trees and power lines. Several people shared terrifying up-close footage of the storms on Twitter and other social media platforms Thursday.
Roughly 15 miles (24 kilometers) to the west of Birmingham, a high-profile union drive has been in full force in Bessemer, Alabama these past weeks as Amazon workers there vote on whether to form a union under the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. On Thursday, Amazon temporarily shuttered its Bessemer fulfillment center located in Jefferson County, which is one of the counties named in the governor’s emergency order, amid severe weather warnings.
“We are operating under a Governor-issued state of emergency related to tornado warnings in the greater Birmingham area,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “As a result, we’ve closed our site in Bessemer and will reopen when it’s safe to do so.”
Some critics voiced concern that the warehouse closure could impact the union voting process given that the deadline for the March 30 ballot count is fast approaching. Fortunately, RWDSU communications director Chelsea Connor says that’s not the case.
“There were tornados last week too. It’s just the local weather,” she said.
Thursday’s storms aren’t expected to impact the ballot count beginning next week, she said. Meetings set for tomorrow with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, civil rights leader William Barber, and other high-profile supporters at RWDSU union hall still remain as scheduled at this time.
The e-commerce giant has come under increasing scrutiny for its flagrant union-busting attempts ahead of this vote, which may help you understand why the news that it temporarily shut down its Bessemer warehouse would be met with such fierce skepticism—especially with Amazon’s pee bottle fiasco still fresh in everyone’s minds.