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A deadly tornado roared into southeast Alabama Sunday, part of a severe storm system that caused catastrophic damage and unleashed other tornadoes around the Southeast. (March 4)
AP

First responders in southeast Alabama hunted for survivors Monday after a devastating tornado killed at least 23 people, smashed homes and toppled power lines and a massive steel cell tower.

The tornado Sunday was part of a powerful storm system that also ripped through parts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. The National Weather Service in Tallahassee confirmed the system spawned tornadoes in Leon County, Florida and near Cairo, Georgia.

In Alabama, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said dozens were injured and the death toll could rise as recovery operations progress.

It was the nation’s deadliest tornado outbreak in six years, since May 20, 2013, when a tornado killed 24 people in Oklahoma, the Storm Prediction Center said. 

“Houses completely destroyed, basically just slabs left where once stood a home,” Jones said. “The contents of one residence we know for a fact were located over a 1,000 yards away, so we’ve go a very wide storm track.”

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said the ages of the dead ranged from under 10 into the 70s. He said he had to call in help from the state because there were more bodies than his office could handle.

Local resident Jeremy Daniel Norton told CNN the storm seemed to roll in without warning, smashing homes and power polls “like toothpicks.”

“This just came on so quick and changed so many lives,” he said. “It’s really sickening.”

The National Weather Service said the twister was at least EF-3 in strength (with winds of 136-165 mph) and was a half-mile wide or more.

The East Alabama Medical Center said it had received more than 40 patients and that others were sent to surrounding hospitals. Harris said at least two people were in critical condition.

“These families have lost everything they have,” Jones said.

A warning had been issued for the deadly tornado in Lee County about 20 minutes before it hit, said Bryan Wood, a meteorologist at Assurant. And for tornadoes in general in that area, the Storm Prediction Center had given a head’s up about 90 minutes prior to touchdown. 

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey expanded a state of emergency statewide. She said state emergency officials were working to provide assistance.

“Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives in the storms that hit Lee County,” she said in a statement. “Praying for their families and everyone whose homes or businesses were affected.”

In Georgia’s Talbot County, emergency officials initially reported six to eight minor injuries. No seriously injured or dead were found in damaged mobile homes or buildings Sunday night, emergency management spokesperson Ann Erenheim said. 

The office of Gov. Brian Kemp said the governor was getting updates on the damage in his state.

The region was expected to get a reprieve from the winds in coming days. No tornadoes were expected through the rest of the week, the Storm Prediction Center said. AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said, however, that colder air will sweep into the Southeast behind the severe weather. Temperatures dropping into the 30s southward to central Georgia and across most of Alabama

“Those without power who rely on electric heat need to find ways to say warm,” she said.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter: “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!”

Contributing: Grace Pateras, Tallahassee Democrat; The Associated Press

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/03/04/alabama-tornado-aftermath-workers-search-missing/3053092002/


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