Searches to resume after tornado kills 23 in Alabama

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BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — Rescuers prepared Monday to tear through the rubble of mobile homes and houses in search of survivors of a powerful tornado that rampaged through southeast Alabama and killed at least 23 people.

The trail of destruction was at least half a mile wide and overwhelmed rural Lee County’s coroners’ office, forcing it to call in help from the state.

“The devastation is incredible,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.

Drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors, but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Sheriff Jones said. Rescuers planned to resume the search at daylight Monday.

The Sunday tornado was part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Levi Baker, who lives near the hard-hit area in Alabama, took a chain saw to help clear a path for ambulances and other first-responder vehicles. He said some houses were demolished and trees were uprooted or snapped in half. One house was swept off its foundation and was sitting in the middle of the road.

“It was just destruction,” Baker said. “There were mobile homes gone. Frames on the other side of the road.”

Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard reducing homes to slabs.

The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating caused the 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 kph).

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Tornadoes hit Louisiana

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Wreckage covers the grounds of a mobile home park a day after it was hit by a tornado, in Convent, Louisiana February 24, 2016 in an aerial photo provided by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Several tornadoes lashed southern Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 30 as the storms destroyed dozens of homes and businesses and toppled a water tower, weather and emergency officials said. Hardest hit in Louisiana was the Mississippi River hamlet of Convent, where 90 percent of the estimated 160 mobile homes at the Sugar Hill trailer park were demolished, state police superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson told a news conference. REUTERS/Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY

Wreckage covers the grounds of a mobile home park a day after it was hit by a tornado, in Convent, Louisiana February 24, 2016 in an aerial photo provided by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Several tornadoes lashed southern Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 30 as the storms destroyed dozens of homes and businesses and toppled a water tower, weather and emergency officials said. Hardest hit in Louisiana was the Mississippi River hamlet of Convent, where 90 percent of the estimated 160 mobile homes at the Sugar Hill trailer park were demolished, state police superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson told a news conference. REUTERS/Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness/Handout via Reuters FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Tropical Depression Isaac is seen as it begins to dissipate over the Midwest U.S. in this September 1, 2012 NASA handout satellite image. The remnants of Hurricane Isaac were grinding slowing northward with its center deep into Missouri and the heavy rain stretching for hundreds of miles east into Illinois amid reports of tornadoes and high winds, meteorologists said. REUTERS/NASA/Handout (UNITED STATES – Tags: ENVIRONMENT) THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: A woman looks at the wreckage caused by a tornado which touched down along Chef Menture Avenue on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: A little girl plays with a broken stick amongst the debris that was left behind by a tornad on on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: A man stands inside his buisnnes after a tornado ripped off his roof on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service, 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: Cars are covered with bricks after a tornado touched down along Chef Menture Avenue on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service, 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: A woman holds three dogs by a make-shift leash amongst the debris left behind by a tornado on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service, 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: Residents walk down a street along Chef Menture Ave after a tornado touched down in the eastern part of the city on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

VILONIA, AR – APRIL 29: A police officer walks past an overturned car at a homesite that was destroyed by a tornado on Sunday, April 29, 2014 in Vilonia, Arkansas. After deadly tornadoes ripped through the region leaving more than a dozen dead, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee are all under watch as multiple storms over the next few days are expected. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

VILONIA, AR – APRIL 29: Volunteer Gina Lowe (C) helps a family move belongings from a home that was destroyed by a tornado on Sunday, April 29, 2014 in Vilonia, Arkansas. After deadly tornadoes ripped through the region leaving more than a dozen dead, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee are all under watch as multiple storms are expected over the next few days. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

NEW ORLEANS, LA – FEBRUARY 07: A police officer walks through a damaged gas station along Chef Menture Avenue after a tornado touched down in the eastern part of the city on February 7, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. According to the weather service, 25 people were injured in the aftermath of the tornado. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)




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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.

In a tweet late Sunday, President Donald Trump said: “To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. Tornadoes and storms were truly violent and more could be coming. To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!”

Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to help 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 Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties other than Lee County, said Gregory Robinson, 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 storm system raced across the region. Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out Monday to assess those and other storms.

In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) 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.

News footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. 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 in southwest Georgia were 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 Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.

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Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Bill Cormier in Atlanta; and Ryan Kryska in New York contributed to this report.



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