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BEAUREGARD, Ala. — At least 22 people were killed by a possible tornado in Alabama on Sunday as severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and left a trail of destruction amid weather warnings extending into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, authorities said.
Dozens of emergency responders were called in to assist in Lee County, Alabama, after what appeared to be a large tornado struck Sunday afternoon.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told The Associated Press late Sunday evening that children are among the dead. He says it’s possible the death toll could continue to rise, but authorities are pausing search efforts overnight because conditions are too dangerous in the dark due to massive amounts of debris.
Multiple homes were destroyed or damaged in Beauregard, about 60 miles east of Montgomery, Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, told the Associated Press. She had no further details.
We had someone on the ground in Lee Co briefly before the sun went down. First tornado to impact Lee County today was at least an EF-3 & at least 1/2 mi wide…this is pending further/more detailed assessment tomorrow. #alwx
— NWS Birmingham (@NWSBirmingham) March 4, 2019
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.
Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the powerful storm system raced across the region.
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds or a tornado that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.
Televised broadcast news footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.
“The last check I had was between six and eight injuries,” Ereheim said in a phone interview. “From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken.”
She said searches of damaged homes and structures had turned up no serious injuries or deaths.
Henry Wilson of the Peach County Emergency Management Agency near Macon in central Georgia said a barn had been destroyed and trees and power poles had been snapped, leaving many in the area without power.
Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon.
A portion of Interstate 10 on the Florida Panhandle was blocked in one direction in Walton County in the aftermath, said Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.
“There’s a squall line moving through the area,” Harrigan told AP. “And when you have a mature line of storms moving into an area where low-level winds are very strong, you tend to have tornadoes developing. It’s a favorable environment for tornadoes.”
The threat of severe weather was expected to continue until late Sunday. A tornado watch was in effect for much of eastern Georgia, including Athens, Augusta and Savannah. The tornado watch also covered a large area of South Carolina, including the cities of Charleston and Columbia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.