By Ron Brackett and Sean Breslin . weather.com
- A tornado outbreak hit the South on Sunday, leaving damage in several states.
- At least 23 people were killed as multiple tornadoes hit Lee County, Alabama.
- More than 42,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in Georgia and Alabama.
The search resumes Monday for victims of a vicious tornado outbreak that ripped across the South on Sunday killing at least 23 people in Alabama.
The violent storms left debris strewn across southern Alabama and Georgia, the Florida Panhandle and into parts of South Carolina.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office told local media that no fewer than 23 people were killed when the tornado roared through the community of Beauregard in southern Alabama county shortly after 2 p.m. CST.
“The devastation is incredible,” Sheriff Jay Jones told WRBL.
The sheriff later said some of the victims were children, and two people were in intensive care. WRBL said at least 40 people were injured in the storm.
The National Weather Service said the twister was at least EF3 in strength and was a half-mile wide or more.
Sunday was the deadliest day for tornadoes in the United States since May 20, 2013.
“We’ve still got people being pulled out of rubble,” Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told AL.com. “We’re going to be here all night.”
“Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives in the storms that hit Lee County today,” Ivey said in a tweet. “Praying for their families & everyone whose homes or businesses were affected.”
About 3:20 p.m. CST, the NWS issued a tornado emergency after a large and destructive tornado was confirmed near Smiths Station, also in Lee County.
Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland told The Weather Channel that at least 12 houses were flattened.
“We have a lot of mobile homes turned upside down,” Copeland said.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Smiths Station.
Copeland said Lee County schools are canceled Monday because “several huge holes are on top of the (elementary) school.”
The storm also destroyed the Buck Wild Saloon and damaged a gas station. It also toppled a cell phone tower across U.S. 280.
“I’m begging people to stay home … and stay off the roads,” Copeland said, so search and rescue efforts can continue.
The Lee County storm warnings were two of several tornado warnings issued for Alabama and Georgia on Sunday afternoon.
Reports said multiple homes were damaged in Dupree, Alabama, south of Dothan. Other reports said the airport and a fire station were damaged in Eufaula, Alabama.
Some 30 miles north of Tallahassee, the town of Cairo and its 9,500 residents suffered a direct hit from what appeared to be a tornado on radar. Shortly after, authorities reported widespread damage in the town, but it was unclear if there were any injuries.
Speaking with Cairo Mayor Booker Gainor, Tallahassee Democrat reporter Jeffrey Burlew tweeted that dozens of structures were damaged or destroyed and some residents were trapped in their homes after the storm struck the town Sunday night.
“It’s pretty bad,” Gainor told the Democrat. “We have a lot of trees down, debris and power lines. We have trees completely through houses. You would think a hurricane came after this, the way it looks.”
Several towns in Georgia reported damage earlier Sunday from several tornadoes that were confirmed on radar by the NWS. In the town of Talbotton, located some 35 miles northeast of Columbus, several people were injured when a damaging storm rolled through the area, Talbot County Emergency Management Agency director Leigh Ann Erenheim told the Associated Press.
“The last check I had was between six and eight injuries,” Erenheim said in a phone interview with the AP. “From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken.”
While following the storm, Peach County Sheriff’s Sgt. Shane Brooks told the Macon Telegraph he was nearly hit directly by the tornado as he drove down Duke Road in Byron.
“It was moving so fast I didn’t have time do anything but just sit there and hold on,” he told the Telegraph. “It was not something I would want to experience again.”
Crawford County Fire Chief Randall Pate said a tornado destroyed four homes. Pate also reported one injury: a woman whose ankle was broken when her home was damaged.
The Leon County Sheriff’s Office said five homes were destroyed and another five damaged when severe storms hit the Florida Panhandle. At least two people were taken to a hospital.
The NWS said a tornado was confirmed south of Quincy, Florida, in Gadsden County, and another was spotted near Crawfordville in Wakulla County.
A radar-confirmed tornado spread debris across Interstate 10 in Walton County, Florida, the AP reported. The eastbound lanes of the interstate had to be closed for cleanup.
Storms caused numerous reports of damage in and around Columbia Sunday night. The NWS said possible tornadoes caused damage to a church in Red Bank, and ripped a roof off a home and blew recreational vehicles onto their sides near Lexington.