At least 23 dead in Alabama tornadoes as death toll expected to rise

Mobile homes tossed on their sides and ripped open by 240km/h winds at weekend

Eyewitness footage captures the aftermath of a tornado in Lee County, Alabama, which has left at least 23 people dead. Video: Reuters


Alabama residents and rescue workers on Monday dug through the remnants of homes destroyed by a spate of tornadoes that killed at least 23 people, including two children, the deadliest US twisters in almost six years.

The tornadoes ripped through Lee County on Sunday with winds of at least 240m/h, at the midpoint of the six-step Enhanced Fujita scale, which meteorologists use to measure tornado strength.

At least two and as many as five tornadoes hit an area of eastern Alabama near the Georgia border in the space of a few hours on Sunday afternoon, with some of the worst damage in the tiny community of Beauregard, according to the National Weather Service.

Mobile homes were tossed on their sides and ripped open, their contents strewn on the ground, live television images showed. Pieces of homes hung from trees that were not flattened by the storm.

More than 50 people were reported injured and the death toll is expected to rise, authorities said, which could make the storms deadlier than the tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013, killing 24 people.

“It looks almost as if someone took a giant knife and just scraped the ground. There are slabs where homes formerly stood, debris everywhere, trees are snapped,” Lee County sheriff Jay Jones told a news conference. “I’ve not seen this level of destruction ever in my experience in Lee County.”

At least two children died, including one as young as six, Mr Jones said. Two of the injured were in critical condition and at least 20 people were missing, Lee County coroner Bill Harris told CNN.

Pieces of wood

Jenifer Vernon, a 40-year-old grocery store attendant, surveyed the wreckage of her flattened home, spread in piles on either side of her Beauregard street.

“That’s half my home,” said Ms Vernon, pointing to the debris. “That’s the other half.” She was in the nearby town of Opelika with her husband and 14-year-old daughter when the tornadoes hit.

Looking over splintered pieces of wood and the remains of kitchen appliances, Ms Vernon said she had lost another home to fire last year, adding, “We’ll bounce back from this.”

US president Donald Trump said on Twitter on Monday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be helping. “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes,” he said.

Temperatures in the state fell to 36 degrees on Monday, leaving those without heat struggling with the cold. The death toll was more than double the 10 people killed by tornadoes in the United States for all of 2018, according to government data. – Reuters