A tornado roared into southeast Alabama and has killed at least 23 people and injured several others Sunday, part of a severe storm system that caused catastrophic damage and unleashed other tornadoes around the Southeast.
“Unfortunately our toll, as far as fatalities, does stand at 23 at the current time,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said of the death toll. He added that 2 people were in intensive care.
Drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Jones said. “The devastation is incredible,” he said. An intense ground search would resume Monday morning.
Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard and that the path of damage and destruction appeared at least a half mile wide. He said single-family homes and mobile homes were destroyed, adding some homes were reduced to slabs. He had told reporters earlier that several people were taken to hospitals, some with “very serious injuries.”
Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said that he had to call in help from the state, because there were more bodies than his four-person office can handle.
The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating and a track at least half a mile (.8 kilometers) wide caused the deadly destruction in Alabama. Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kilometers per hour).
Radar and video evidence showed what looked like a large tornado crossing the area near Beauregard shortly after 2 p.m. on Sunday, said meteorologist Meredith Wyatt with the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service.
“It appears it stayed on the ground for at least a mile and maybe longer.”
President Donald Trump tweeted late Sunday, “To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. … To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!”
No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties outside Lee County, said a spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. But he said crews were still surveying damage in several counties in the southwestern part of the state.
Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the powerful storm system raced across the region.
Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out early Monday to assess those and other storms.
Televised broadcast news footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.
Authorities in southwest Georgia are searching door-to-door in darkened neighborhoods after a possible tornado touched down in the rural city of Cairo, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) north of Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday evening. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon.
A portion of Interstate 10 on the Panhandle was blocked in one direction for a time in Walton County in the aftermath, said a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.
The threat of severe weather continued into the late-night hours. A tornado watch was in effect for much of eastern Georgia, including Athens, Augusta and Savannah. The tornado watch also covered a large area of South Carolina, including the cities of Charleston and Columbia.
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