At least 23 people were killed after a tornado slammed into the state of Alabama in the United States and destroyed numerous homes with a death toll that could rise as rescuers sift through the rubble.
Emergency workers toiled into the night on Sunday, pulling bodies and the injured out of demolished homes and businesses in Lee County.
Sheriff Jay Jones told WRBL-TV the number of dead was 23. “And again the search continues. We still have some people that are reported missing,” he said.
Jones described the scene as “mass damage”.
Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said the death toll could rise. “We’ve still got people being pulled out of rubble,” he told the Birmingham News newspaper.
Authorities paused search efforts overnight because conditions were too dangerous in the dark with massive amounts of debris.
Severe weather unleashed one of the numerous possible tornadoes that threatened the US’s south. Weather warnings extended into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey warned residents more severe weather might be on the way.
Meteorologist Chris Darden travelled to the scene and confirmed at least F3 damage in Lee County. The so-called Fujita scale measures wind speed and the corresponding destructive power of a tornado.
Although a statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 254-331 kilometres per hour.
The storm left more than 10,000 people without power as the temperature dropped.
“Colder air will sweep into the southeast behind the severe weather with temperatures dropping,” AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said. “Those without power who rely on electric heat need to find ways to say warm.”
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 130km south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.
Televised news footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere.
Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle.
Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, said there’s a “squall line” moving through the region.
“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 favourable environment for tornados,” said Harrigan.
The threat of severe weather was expected to continue. 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. (Courtesy Aljazeera)