Tuesday 15 October 2019

Deadly tornado hits Alabama

At least 23 dead as severe storms leave trail of destruction in US

Twister: The storm near Marianna, Florida, close to the border with Alabama. Photo: James Lally/AP
Twister: The storm near Marianna, Florida, close to the border with Alabama. Photo: James Lally/AP

Rachael Alexander

A tornado roaring across south-east Alabama killed at least 23 people, including children, and injured several others on Sunday as severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and caused widespread damage.

Dozens of emergency responders rushed to join search and rescue efforts in Lee County after what appeared to be a large tornado touched down, springing out of a powerful storm system raking the south-east of the United States.

"Unfortunately our toll, as far as fatalities, does stand at 23," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.

Mr Jones described the damage caused by the storm as "catastrophic, based on the destruction of homes that we've seen".

"The devastation is incredible," he said. "I cannot recall, at least in the last 50 years, a situation where we have had this loss of life."

Drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors but the dangerous conditions halted the search, Mr Jones said. An intense ground search resumed yesterday.

Mr Jones said the storm's path of destruction stretched for miles through his rural county. He didn't have an immediate account of how many were believed missing. Several people in Lee County were taken to hospitals, "some of them with very serious injuries," he said.

President Donald Trump tweeted: "To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!"

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said the death toll could rise. "We've still got people being pulled out of rubble," he said. "We're going to be here all night."

"There are some children involved," he added later, following unconfirmed reports an eight-year-old girl was among the dead.

The East Alabama Medical Centre in Opelika said it was treating more than 40 patients as a result of the tornado and expected to receive more. Some patients had been sent to other hospitals, it added.

Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders joined efforts to search the debris after the powerful storm. She said numerous homes were destroyed or damaged in Beauregard, 95km east of Montgomery.

Photos posted on social media from a highway near Smiths Station, about 30km east of Beauregard, showed a large bar called the Buck Wild Saloon with its roof torn off and missing most of a wall after the storm swept through.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey warned residents on Twitter that more severe weather might be on the way.

"Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives in the storms that hit Lee County," Ms Ivey wrote. "Praying for their families and everyone whose homes or businesses were affected."

No deaths had been reported in counties outside 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 south-west of the state.

Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina as the storm system raced across the region. Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and were sending teams out yesterday to assess the situation.

In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 130km south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful winds or a tornado which destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.

Television news footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.

Irish Independent

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