People walk amid debris in Lee County, Ala., after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area Sunday, March 3, 2019. Severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and left a trail of destruction amid weather warnings extending into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, authorities said. (WKRG-TV via AP)

The Latest: Fierce tornado confirmed in Alabama destruction

March 03, 2019 - 8:52 pm

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

10:25 p.m.

The National Weather Service says a tornado with at least an F3 rating and a track at least half a mile (.8 kilometers) wide caused the deadly destruction in Alabama.

Meteorologist Chris Darden in Alabama traveled to the scene and confirmed at least F3 damage in extreme southern areas of Lee County, according to a special weather statement issued Sunday evening. The so-called Fujita scale measures wind speed and the corresponding destructive power of a tornado.

Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kilometers per hour).

The weather service says it also determined there was another storm track nearby in Lee County that also will be studied by a team of experts on Monday. It cautions that the information is preliminary and likely to be updated later.

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10:20 p.m.

A sheriff says the death toll is now at 22 from a large tornado that devastated an Alabama community.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told The Associated Press late Sunday evening that children are among the dead. He says it's possible the death toll could continue to rise, but authorities are pausing search efforts overnight because conditions are too dangerous in the dark due to massive amounts of debris.

Jones says search and rescue teams will resume their work at first light Monday. He added that some single-family homes are wiped clean to a slab and that drone aircraft with heat-seeking equipment had flown over the rubble in search of any who might be still trapped.

Earlier, Jone said there were also injuries but he had no count of how many or the severity of those injuries.

The storm was one of several tornadoes in an outbreak that sprung up from a severe weather front that lashed the Southeast on Sunday.

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10:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump has tweeted to Alabama residents to be safe in the wake of deadly storms, including a powerful tornado that has claimed several lives in that Southern state.

Trump wrote in the tweet Sunday evening: "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."

His tweet concluded: "To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!"

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10 p.m.

Authorities in southwest Georgia are searching door to door in darkened neighborhoods after a possible tornado touched down in the rural city of Cairo.

Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton said office and commercial buildings in the downtown had windows blown out and metal roofs torn off by the storm Sunday evening. He said some residents reported being stuck inside homes that were damaged or had trees on them.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries in the community, 33 miles (about 50 kilometers) north of the Florida capital of Tallahassee.

Electricity was out. Addleton said the full extent of the damage likely wouldn't be known until daylight.

The National Weather Service Weather says an outbreak of tornadoes swept a wide area of the Deep South on Sunday as severe storms crossed the region.

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8:30 p.m.

A coroner in southeast Alabama says he expects the death toll to rise to at least 20 from a tornado in hard-hit Lee County.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told The Associated Press that he has called in help from elsewhere around the state because there were more bodies than his four-person office can handle. Says Harris of the victims in the hard-hit county: "I'd say at least 20 or more."

Earlier Harris told A.Com that "we've still got people being pulled out of rubble." The coroner added: "We're going to be here all night."

Authorities say several tornadoes or possible tornadoes were unleashed by a vast storm system that raked several states in the Southeast on Sunday.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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 Smiths 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.