Update: At least 23 dead in southeast Alabama tornado

The deadly twister hit Lee County Sunday afternoon.

Posted: Mar 3, 2019 8:16 PM
Updated: Mar 4, 2019 10:29 AM

Monday morning update:

BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) - Authorities plan to resume an intense ground search Monday amid devastation from a deadly tornado that rampaged through southeast Alabama, killing at least 23 people.

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

The number of deaths in hard-hit Lee County was so high that coroner Bill Harris told The Associated Press he had to call in help from the state because there were more bodies than his four-person office can handle.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones says drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday.

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

From earlier:

The Latest on Deep South storms (all times local):

7:30 p.m.

Authorities are blocking traffic to some of the most heavily damaged areas in an Alabama county where the sheriff says at least 14 people are confirmed dead.

Patrol vehicles from the Lee County Sheriff's Office could be seen by an Associated Press reporter as the vehicles blocked Highway 51 into downtown Beauregard. Closer to the devastation, emergency vehicles including ambulances, with lights flashes, were scattered all around. One trained canine had been brought into the area to help the operations.

The area was dark and electricity appeared to be knocked out in many places late Sunday. Pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered the roadside. It was not raining after the storms rolled eastward into Georgia and toward the Carolinas.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told media outlets Sunday that at least 14 deaths had been confirmed in the county and some others are reported missing.


7 p.m.

An Alabama sheriff says at least 14 people are dead amid "catastrophic" damage from a possible tornado and others are missing as crews search through wreckage and debris.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told WRBL-TV on Sunday that damage in his community followed a path several miles (kilometers) long and appeared up to a fourth of a mile (.4 kilometers) wide.

Jones said: "I can say that at this time we have 14 confirmed fatalities. And again, the search continues. We still have some people that are reported missing." He didn't elaborate on the exact number of those missing.

He adds that several people have been taken to hospitals, "some of them with very serious injuries."

Weather officials say an outbreak of tornadoes occurred Sunday afternoon across a wide area of the Southeast as severe storms crossed the region.


6:20 p.m.

An Alabama coroner says he expects the number of deaths from a possible tornado to rise as search crews comb through rubble and debris.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told Al.com on Sunday evening that two people are confirmed dead in Beauregard, Alabama, but he expects more bodies to be found.

Harris says: "We've still got people being pulled out of rubble. We're going to be here all night."

Alabama Emergency Management Agency spokesman Gregory Robinson says no deaths have been reported in the state beyond Lee County, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Montgomery. But Robinson says teams are still assessing damage in several Alabama counties.

Weather officials say an outbreak of tornadoes occurred Sunday afternoon across a wide area of the Southeast as severe storms crossed the region.


6:10 p.m.

The National Weather Service says it has confirmed a tornado by radar that has toppled trees in a Florida Panhandle county, halting traffic on a stretch of Interstate 10 in one direction because of debris.

Meteorologist Don Harrigan with the Tallahassee office of the weather service tells The Associated Press that the tornado hit about 5:45 p.m. Sunday in Walton County in the DeFuniak Springs area. He says radar shows debris was lofted into the air and he was getting reports of trees down in Walton County and eastbound traffic disrupted at Mile Marker 83 on I-10 in the area.

He says the Tallahassee office confirmed other tornadoes on radar in Geneva County in southeast Alabama, just across the line from north Florida. And he says another radar-confirmed tornado was detected in Henry County, Alabama, moving into a neighboring county.

Harrigan says a squall line moving across the Southeast is entering an area of strong, low-level winds that is conducive to forming tornadoes. He says the threat of more tornadoes will continue for several hours as the storm system races toward the Atlantic seaboard.


4:30 p.m.

An emergency management official says two people are confirmed dead and there are many injuries in a southeast Alabama community hit by an apparent tornado that destroyed several homes.

Spokeswoman Rita Smith with the Lee County Emergency Management Agency says she wasn't authorized to release further details of thee deaths, but says they occurred along with numerous injuries in the community of Beauregard, Alabama.

Authorities reported what appeared to be a large tornado struck Sunday afternoon.

"We've got about 150 first responders out there," Smith told The Associated Press by phone. "They are doing a phenomenal job. Sadly, we know that we have two known confirmed fatalities and many, many injuries."

She says multiple homes have been destroyed or damaged in Beauregard, a community about 60 miles (95 kilometers) east of Montgomery, the state capital.

Meteorlogist Meredith Wyatt with the Birmingham, Alabama, office of the National Weather Service says radar and video evidence showed what looked like a large tornado crossing the area near Beauregard shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday.

Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama and Georgia on Sunday as a severe storm system churned across the Deep South.


3 p.m.

A National Weather Service meteorologist says there are reports of "significant" damage from a possible tornado in southeast Alabama near the Georgia state line.

Meteorologist Meredith Wyatt said video and radar showed a possible tornado hitting near Smith's Station, Alabama, on Sunday afternoon. Wyatt said she had no immediate reports of serious injuries.

The National Weather Service on Sunday issued a series of tornado warnings stretching from Phenix City, Alabama, near the Georgia state line to Macon, Georgia, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the east.

The threat of severe weather was expected to continue until late Sunday. A tornado watch was in effect for much of Georgia, including Athens, Augusta and Savannah. The tornado watch also covers a large area of South Carolina, including the cities of Charleston and Columbia.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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