BEAUREGARD, Alabama (AP) – A tornado roared into southeast Alabama and killed at least 23 people and injured several others last 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 told WRBL-TV of the death toll. He added that two 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 resumed yesterday morning.
Jones said the twister travelled 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 told The Associated Press 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 confir-med late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating and a track at least half a mile 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 158-206mph.
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 last 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 last 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,” Jones told the AP.
After nightfall last 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.
President Donald Trump tweeted late last Sunday, “To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe.”
Spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency Rita Smith 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.
No deaths had been reported last Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties outside Lee County, said spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency Gregory Robinson.
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 last 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 sent teams out early yesterday to assess those and other storms.
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 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 Director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency Leigh Ann Erenheim.
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.