23 people are confirmed dead in Lee County, Alabama after the region was struck by at least one tornado. It was the deadliest tornado to hit the US since 2013.
It is thought that there may be further fatalities uncovered and that dozens more were injured as the tornado swept through eastern Alabama.
Coroner Bill Harris said entire families had been killed in the storm, along with children aged 6,9 and 10.
The youngest identified victim, Armando Hernandez, has been remembered as “a precious little man that was loved by everyone.”
Dozens in Alabama still missing after deadliest tornado in nearly 6 years https://t.co/a4UU4FRPl7
— TIME (@TIME) March 4, 2019
Many still unaccounted for after Alabama was hit by a tornado
As footage of the area showed fallen telegraph poles, overturned trucks and roads clogged with debris and destroyed buildings, County Sheriff Jay Jones said the damage had been “catastrophic”.
“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,” he said.
Harris also said it was difficult to give an accurate statement on the number of missing people because of the chaotic scenes in the tornado’s wake. “There’s areas where there are five or six cars in the driveway and there’s no home there. And so they had to have been at home when this storm hit.
“Those are the ones who we’re going back and researching and trying to find somebody that knows where they are.”
— ABC News (@ABC) March 4, 2019
The National Weather Service (NWS) classified a twister that struck the area at EF-4, meaning winds reached speeds of up to 274 kilometres/hour (170 miles/hour).
The area most impacted was Beauregard, which is about 95 kilometres (65 miles) east of the state capital, Montgomery.
US President Donald Trump acknowledged the devastation on Twitter. “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 wrote. “@GovernorKayIvey, one of the best in our Country, has been so informed. She is working closely with FEMA (and me!).”
Governor Ivey had already declared a state of emergency in February due to severe weather and extended this after the tornado damage. She also requested a federal major disaster declaration.
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. @GovernorKayIvey, one of the best in our Country, has been so informed. She is working closely with FEMA (and me!).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2019
“It’s just devastating”
At Smiths Station, two dozen families were reportedly left homeless and a two-ton air-conditioner was ripped from a school building and thrown into a nearby cemetery.
The US Gulf Coast, which includes Florida, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi along with Alabama, is vulnerable to tornadoes at this time of year. The damage caused by these storms is the worst since the calamitous Tuscalossa-Birmingham tornado, which claimed more than 200 lives in 2011.
Local Julie Morrison, who has lived in Beauregard for almost two decades, told Reuters she and her husband survived the tornadoes by sheltering in a bathtub.
Their home was blown off its foundations and turned into rubble.
“It’s just devastating to see this,” she said. “I just thank God that me and my husband survived.”