At least ‘23’ dead in Alabama tornadoes

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This photo provided by James Lally shows a funnel-shaped cloud on I-10 near Marianna, Fla, on March 3. 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. (AP)

BEAUREGARD, Ala, March 4, (Agencies): Rescuers sifted through rubble looking for more dead and wounded after two back-to-back tornadoes touched down in Alabama, killing at least 23 people, authorities said.

The storms infl icted their worst damage on Lee County, Alabama Sunday, destroying numerous homes and businesses. More than 50 people were reported injured and the death toll is expected to rise. Meanwhile, about 10 inches of snow was expected to fall in the New York City area by Monday morning with the arrival of another arctic blast, prompting all schools in the city to be closed and New Jersey to declare a state of emergency. Punishing cold winds will make it feel 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in Chicago Monday with the windchill effect, the National Weather Service said.

Actual temperatures will hover around 15 degrees Fahrenheit Monday. Classes in schools across Boston were also cancelled or delayed as about 7 inches will fall by morning before turning into icy sleet, said Bob Oravec, a forecaster with the weather service. “Winter is definitely not over,” Oravec said. In Alabama, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said that rescue and recovery operations overnight were difficult. “The challenge is the sheer volume of the debris where all the homes were located,” Jones said in an interview with CNN on Sunday. “It’s the most I’ve seen that I can recall.”

On Twitter, US President Donald Trump urged residents of Alabama and other areas affected by the storms to be “careful and safe.” “Tornadoes and storms were truly violent and more could be coming,” Trump wrote. “To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!” As thousands faced a night without power, temperatures in Alabama looked set to fall to near freezing following the storm.

“Colder air will sweep into the Southeast behind the severe weather with temperatures dropping into the 30s (1 C) southward to central Georgia and across most of Alabama by Monday morning,” AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said. “Those without power who rely on electric heat need to find ways to stay warm,” she added. The trail of destruction was at least half a mile wide and overwhelmed rural Lee County’s coroners’ office, forcing it to call in help from the state.

“The devastation is incredible,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said. Drones fl ying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors, but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Sheriff Jones said. Rescuers planned to resume the search at daylight Monday. The Sunday tornado, which had winds that appeared to be around 160 mph (257 kph) or greater, was part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Levi Baker, who lives near the hard-hit area in Alabama, took a chain saw to help clear a path for ambulances and other first-responder vehicles. He said he saw bodies of dead people and dead animals. He said some houses were demolished and trees were uprooted or snapped in half.

One house was swept off its foundation and was sitting in the middle of the road. “It was just destruction,” Baker said. “There were mobile homes gone. Frames on the other side of the road.” Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard reducing homes to slabs. Scott Fillmer was at home when the storm hit in Lee County. “I looked out the window and it was nothing but black, but you could hear that freight train noise,” Fillmer said.

The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating caused the destruction in Alabama. Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kph). After nightfall Sunday, the rain had stopped and pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered roadways in Beauregard. Two sheriff’s vehicles blocked reporters and others from reaching the worst-hit area. Power appeared to be out in many places.

In a tweet late Sunday, President Donald Trump said: “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!” Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to help search the debris after the storm struck in Beauregard.

At least one trained canine could be seen with search crews as numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles, lights fl ashing, converged on the area. At the R&D Grocery on Monday morning in Beauregard, residents were constantly asking each other if they were okay. “I’m still thanking God I’m among the living,” said John Jones, who has lived in Beauregard for most of his life. No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties other than 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 southwestern part of the state. Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the storm system raced across the region. Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out Monday to assess those and other storms. In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 km) 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.

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