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A deadly tornado roared into southeast Alabama Sunday, part of a severe storm system that caused catastrophic damage and unleashed other tornadoes around the Southeast. (March 4)
AP

First responders in southeast Alabama hunted for survivors Monday after a devastating tornado killed at last 23 people, smashed homes and toppled power lines and a massive steel cell tower.

The tornado Sunday was part of a powerful storm system that also ripped through parts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. In Alabama, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said dozens were injured and the death toll could rise as recovery operations progress.

“Houses completely destroyed, basically just slabs left where once stood a home,” Jones said. “The contents of one residence we know for a fact were located over a 1,000 yards away, so we’ve go a very wide storm track.”

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said he had to call in help from the state because there were more bodies than his office could handle.

Local resident Jeremy Daniel Norton told CNN the storm seemed to roll in without warning, smashing homes and power polls “like toothpicks.”

“This just came on so quick and changed so many lives,” he said. “It’s really sickening.”

Numerous injuries were reported with more than 40 patients at the East Alabama Medical Center by Sunday evening, the hospital said.

The tornado was an F-3, the National Weather Service said, considered “severe” with wind speeds reached 158 to 206 mph. It tore a path of destruction at least a half-mile wide through part of the county 60 miles from Montgomery, the weather service said.

“These families have lost everything they have,” Jones said.

In Georgia’s Talbot County, emergency officials initially reported six to eight minor injuries. No seriously injured or dead were found in damaged mobile homes or buildings Sunday night, emergency management spokesperson Ann Erenheim said. 

More than 35,000 customers in Alabama and Georgia lost power Sunday following the tornadoes, strong winds and severe thunderstorms, AccuWeather said. Crews are expected to continue restoring electricity as they survey damage to other utilities. 

No tornadoes are expected Monday or through the rest of the week, the Storm Prediction Center said. AccuWeather meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski said, however, that colder air will sweep into the Southeast behind the severe weather. Temperatures dropping into the 30s southward to central Georgia and across most of Alabama

“Those without power who rely on electric heat need to find ways to say warm,” she said.

President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter: “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!”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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