A tornado tore through the southern US state of Alabama on Sunday, killing 14 people, uprooting trees and causing “catastrophic” damage to buildings and roads, officials said.
“At this time, we have 14 confirmed fatalities,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said in a video posted on Facebook by a journalist from a local CBS affiliate.
Other people have been hospitalised, some with “very serious injuries,” while the search was still ongoing for more who are missing, he said.
Lee County coroner Bill Harris confirmed the death toll: “We’ve got 14 people dead at this time and I expect that number to go higher,” he told cable news station MSNBC.
“There are some children involved,” Harris said, following unconfirmed reports that an eight-year-old girl was among the dead.
Jones described the damage caused by the storm as “catastrophic, based on the destruction of homes that we’ve seen.”
The swath of destruction left by the storm was 0.4 kilometers wide and stretched for the “several miles that it traveled on the ground,” according to Jones.
Wrecked houses, downed trees
Still and video images showed trees that had been snapped in two, debris-strewn roads and wrecked houses in the wake of the storm.
More than 6,000 homes were left without power in Alabama, according to PowerOutage.US, while 16,000 suffered outages in neighboring Georgia.
Authorities warned that the death toll could rise further as rescuers search through the debris in Beauregard, about 95 kilometers east of the state capital Montgomery.
Television images showed the heavy rain had relented by dusk but many roads in the worst-hit areas were left littered with debris and unpassable.
Residents in the town of Smith Station told local TV news crews of their shock at turning up to work to find their businesses destroyed, and seeing crying co-workers comforting one another.
One bar in the town appeared to have lost its roof and most of its walls in images screened by MSNBC, while a cell tower was completely destroyed.
“My sister and niece have been under tornado watch and warnings all day in Montgomery… Prayers up for Alabama,” Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Ava Duvernay tweeted.
The NWS had issued a tornado warning for areas including Lee County earlier on Sunday, calling on residents to: “TAKE COVER NOW! Move to a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows.”
NWS Birmingham tweeted the “all clear” several hours later and urged people to “stay out of damaged areas so first responders can do their job.”
While Jones referred to a single storm, CNN reported that two tornadoes had hit Lee County in quick succession, some of “at least a dozen” is said tore through Alabama and the neighboring state of Georgia on Sunday.
NWS Birmingham appeared to confirm that there were multiple twisters in the area, tweeting that the “first tornado to impact Lee County today was at least an EF-3 & at least 1/2 mi wide.”
The EF-3 designation – on a scale of 0 to 5 – means the tornado had winds of 218 to 266 kilometers per hour.
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