Tornado kills 14 in US state of Alabama: After extreme storms, officials warn toll may rise as search ops keep on

An apparent tornado roaring across southeast Alabama killed at least 14 people and injured several others Sunday as severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and scattered destruction and weather warnings into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Dozens of emergency responders rushed to join search and rescue efforts in Lee County, Alabama, after what appeared to be a large tornado touched down Sunday afternoon, springing out of a powerful storm system raking the Southeast.

“I can say that at this time we have 14 confirmed fatalities,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told broadcast outlet WRBL-TV. “And again the search continues. We still have some people that are reported missing.” Authorities warned that the toll could rise further in coming hours as search efforts continued in the small community of Beauregard and surrounding areas. Jones said the storm’s path of destruction stretched for miles (kilometres) through his rural county, and in places was about a fourth of a mile (0.4 kilometres) wide. 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,” Jones said. 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 area of greatest devastation. Power appeared out to homes and businesses around the community in southeast Alabama.

Rita Smith, the spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders jumped into efforts to search the debris after the powerful storm hit. She said numerous homes were destroyed or damaged in Beauregard, about 60 miles (95 kilometres) east of Montgomery. “We’ve still got people being pulled out of the rubble,” Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told Al.com on Sunday evening. “We’re going to be here all night.” The sheriff and coroner did not immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press.

No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama 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 southwestern part of the state. Radar and video evidence showed what looked like a large tornado crossing the area near Beauregard shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday, said meteorologist Meredith Wyatt with the Birmingham, Alabama, office of the National Weather Service.

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