Sad news: Alabama tornado kills as it roars through the US

An apparent tornado roared into southeast Alabama and killed at least 22 people and injured several others, part of a severe storm system that destroyed homes, snapped trees and unleashed other tornadoes around the Southeast.
“We are at 22 right now. Unfortunately, I feel like that number may rise yet again,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said of the death toll. 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. An intense ground search would resume Monday morning.

He told reporters that children were among the dead and that some people are still believed missing and that a search and rescue operation was ongoing in that community about 60 miles (95 kilometres) east of Montgomery, Alabama’s capital city.


“Unfortunately we believe that number is going to go up,” Jones said of the fatalities.

He said the apparent twister travelled straight down a key local artery in 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.

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He had told reporters earlier that several people were taken to hospitals, some with “very serious injuries.”

A tornado in Dothan, Alabama. A tornado killed 14 people and caused "catastrophic" damage in the southern US state of Alabama on March 3, a local sheriff said. Picture: Justin Merritt, Instagram/AFP
A tornado in Dothan, Alabama. A tornado killed 14 people and caused "catastrophic" damage in the southern US state of Alabama on March 3, a local sheriff said. Picture: Justin Merritt, Instagram/AFP

Dozens of emergency responders rushed to join search and rescue efforts in hard- hit Lee County after what forecasters said they think was a large tornado touched down Sunday afternoon, unleashed by a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Radar and video evidence showed what looked like a large tornado crossing the area near Beauregard shortly after 2pm local time Sunday, said meteorologist Meredith Wyatt with the Birmingham, Alabama, office of the National Weather Service.

“It appears it stayed on the ground for at least a mile and maybe longer,” Jones told AP.

After nightfall Sunday, the rain had stopped and pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered roadways in Beauregard.

Two sheriff’s vehicles blocked reporters and others from reaching the worst-hit area. Power appeared to be out in many places.

This photo provided by James Lally shows a funnel-shaped cloud on I-10 near Marianna, Florida. 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. Picture: AP
This photo provided by James Lally shows a funnel-shaped cloud on I-10 near Marianna, Florida. 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. Picture: AP

Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to efforts to search the debris after the storm struck in Beauregard.

At least one trained canine could be seen with search crews as numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, converged on the area.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said he expected the death toll to rise to at least 20.

People walk amid debris in Lee County after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area. Picture: AP
People walk amid debris in Lee County after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area. Picture: AP

“We’ve still got people being pulled out of rubble,” Harris told Al.com on Sunday evening. “We’re going to be here all night.”

Harris told the Associated Press that he called in help from the state, because there were more bodies than his four-person office can handle.

No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties outside Lee County, said Gregory Robinson, spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.

A vehicle is caught under downed trees along Lee Road 11 in Beauregard, Alabama. Picture: AP
A vehicle is caught under downed trees along Lee Road 11 in Beauregard, Alabama. Picture: AP

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.

In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 kilometres) south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds or a tornado that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.

Televised broadcast news footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere.

Emergency responders work in the scene amid debris in Lee County, Alabama. Picture: AP
Emergency responders work in the scene amid debris in Lee County, Alabama. Picture: AP

Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.

“The last check I had was between six and eight injuries,” Erenheim said in a phone interview. “From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken.”

She said searches of damaged homes and structures had turned up no serious injuries or deaths there.

Henry Wilson of the Peach County Emergency Management Agency near Macon in central Georgia said a barn had been destroyed and trees and power poles had been snapped, leaving many in the area without power.

Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon.

A fallen cell tower lies across U.S. Route 280 highway in Lee County, Alabama. Picture: AP
A fallen cell tower lies across U.S. Route 280 highway in Lee County, Alabama. Picture: AP

A portion of Interstate 10 on the Florida Panhandle was blocked in one direction for a time in Walton County in the aftermath, said Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.

“There’s a squall line moving through the area,” Harrigan told AP.

“And when you have a mature line of storms moving into an area where low level winds are very strong, you tend to have tornadoes developing.

It’s a favourable environment for tornadoes.”

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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