An Alabama sheriff says more than 20 people are dead and several others missing after a series of storms, including tornadoes, caused “catastrophic” damage across the Southeast.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told reporters on Sunday that damage in his community followed a path several miles long and appeared up to a fourth of a mile wide.
Dozens of emergency responders were called in to assist in Lee County, Alabama after at least one large tornado struck Sunday afternoon.
Beauregard, about 60 miles east of Montgomery, sustained some of the worst damage from the storms, officials said. Deaths were reported and multiple homes were destroyed or damaged, Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, told AP.
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.
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles 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. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.
“The last check I had was between six and eight injuries,” Ereheim 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.
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 portion of Interstate 10 on the Florida Panhandle was blocked in one direction 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 favorable environment for tornados.”
The threat of severe weather was expected to continue until late Sunday. 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.
Associated Press writers Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama, Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, Bill Cormier in Atlanta, and Ryan Kryska in New York contributed to this report.