BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Strong thunderstorms toppled trees, knocked out power and damaged homes Friday in Alabama and Mississippi, while flooding in Kentucky forced evacuations and left a 2-year-old girl dead.

Amid scattered damage in north Alabama no injuries were reported, but forecasters said tornadoes would be a threat for hours in 21 central counties. School systems throughout the Birmingham area dismissed students ahead of a wave of storms.

Falling trees struck several houses and a nursing home in Cullman, and authorities ordered an evacuation of everyone within a half-mile radius of a downtown area where a gas leak was reported. Workers contained the leak but feared fuel had reached the city's storm sewers.

Power was out throughout town, and officials urged the city's 14,000 residents to conserve water because the treatment plant couldn't operate.

"It came up on us so quickly. Everything happened at once," said Leanne Collins, who works at City Hall.

In Colbert County, emergency management director Mike Melton said power lines and trees were down in a wide area. "There's about a four-mile path of damage," he said.

Across Mississippi, fast-moving storms unleashed possible tornadoes, heavy rain and some hail. Power outages were reported in several communities, including near downtown Vicksburg and in Jackson.

The American Medical Response ambulance service, which serves a number of counties in the Jackson area, handled at least five storm-related injuries, company spokesman Jim Pollard said.

Northeast of Jackson, a particularly strong storm left damage to some homes, downed trees and forced motorists off highways. Many people sought shelter in businesses until the systems moved to the east.

In Kentucky, rivers and streams surged over their banks as rainfall reached a half-foot in some areas.

Two-year-old Kate Hearod died Friday after her mother rounded a curve before dawn in western Kentucky, drove into high water and lost control of her vehicle, state police said.

Heather Hearod, 22, of Hampton, was able to get out of the vehicle and retrieve her daughter, but as the mother struggled to get out of the floodwaters she became separated from her child and lost sight of her, said state police Trooper Stu Recke. The girl was found later nearby and died later at a hospital, he said.

Dozens of homes were evacuated in western and central Kentucky. Linda Sojtori, 66, saw rising water outside her mobile home in Hopkins County and wondered how she would get out before a rescue worker with a boat showed up on her front porch.

"I was scared to death," said Sojtori, who was taken to a Red Cross shelter. "And when this man knocked on the door, it was like an answer from heaven."

In and near Little Rock, Ark., residents used chainsaws, backhoes and elbow grease to clean up from its latest bout of bad weather — a tornado that swept through Thursday night.

At the North Little Rock Airport, a single-engine Cessna lay on its nose propeller against a fuel truck near the runway Friday. The winds also tore into one metal-sided hangar and cut across the runway heading northeast.

Near Benton, southwest of Little Rock, a dozen homes were destroyed at Hurricane Creek Mobile Home Park — one of them by a fire that erupted when a felled tree caused a gas leak. Emergency workers had trouble responding because downed power lines and trees blocked the main road in.

Benton police Capt. Roger Gaither said 70 trailers suffered some sort of damage.

"It's amazing. It's just totally amazing that no one was really hurt," Gaither said.