Dozens still missing after deadly tornado rips through Alabama

Death toll may rise as dozens of people remain missing following Sunday's storm.

    Dozens still missing after deadly tornado rips through Alabama
    Beauregard High School students and members of the community bow their heads in prayer as students lead a prayer service for the community [Vasha Hunt/AP Photo]

    Rescue crews are using dogs and heat-detecting drones to search for victims of a tornado that has left 23 people dead in southeast Alabama in the United States.

    Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told a news conference on Monday that dozens were still missing a day after the giant twister hit the rural Beauregard community, leaving a path of destruction nearly a mile (1.6km) wide.

    Jones said search crews were "basically using everything we can get our hands on" to comb through wreckage and debris.

    That includes dogs brought in from across Alabama and neighbouring states as well as drones equipped with "infrared capability to detect heat signatures".

    Jones said the hardest-hit areas have been checked, but the searches are far from over.

    Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said President Donald Trump called her mobile phone on Monday morning to offer help after the deadly tornadoes struck her state. 

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    Trump has told the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to give Alabama "the A Plus treatment", he said in a tweet.

    "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!" Trump tweeted.

    'We will stand together'

    Addressing storm victims in one hard-hit county, Ivey said, "I want you to know I've got your back. We will do everything in our power to help the citizens of Lee County recover."

    "So to the people of Lee County, please know we are here today to stand with you today, tomorrow and in the weeks ahead," she added. "We will stand together and get through this together." 

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    At least three children are among the 23 killed by the tornado. Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said that the children killed were aged six, nine and 10.

    Harris said all but six of the people killed in the storm have been identified, and his office soon would begin contacting families about funeral homes and arrangements.

    Danny Allen helps recover belongings while sifting through the debris of a friend's home destroyed by a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, on Monday, March 4, 2019. [David Goldman/AP Photo]

    Searches continue

    Harris warned that the overall death toll could still increase as searches continue.

    Jones said search crews were still checking addresses of people who had been reported missing.

    He would not give a number for how many were still missing, but said, "I would say dozens".

    A National Weather Service official said a tornado that struck southeast Alabama was an EF4 twister with wind speeds estimated at 170 mph (274 kph).

    Meteorologist Chris Darden said the storm on Sunday had a path nearly one-mile wide (1.6km), and 24-miles long (39km), stretching towards Georgia. 

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    He said officials on both sides of the state line were surveying the severe storm's damage.

    Darden said it was one of several tornadoes that struck southeastern Alabama.

    Sunday's tornadoes were part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

    The storm left more than 10,000 people without power as the temperature dropped.

    In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (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.

    On Monday, friends in eastern Alabama were helping tornado survivors retrieve the scattered pieces of their lives after devastating winds destroyed their homes.

    SOURCE: News agencies