At least 22 people were killed and dozens more were injured Sunday when powerful tornadoes swept through eastern Alabama, authorities said.
The deaths were in Lee County, on the Georgia border, Sheriff Jay Jones said Sunday night. East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, the county seat, said that it was treating more than 40 patients and that an undetermined number of others had been sent to hospitals.
Jones said the ages of the dead hadn’t been fully determined. “We do have some children, unfortunately,” he said, adding that the number of deaths was expected to rise overnight.
“We’ve done everything we feel like we can do this evening,” he said. “The area is just very, very hazardous to put anybody in to at this point in time.”
The Lee County Emergency Management Agency, or EMA, said the worst of the damage was near the town of Beauregard.
“This is a day of destruction for Lee County,” County Coroner Bill Harris told NBC affiliate WSFA of Montgomery. “We’ve never had a mass fatality situation, that I can remember, like this in my lifetime.”
Gov. Kay Ivey declared a statewide emergency. President Donald Trump urged residents in the region to “be careful and safe.”
The tornadoes touched down amid a severe weather outbreak across the Southeast, according to the National Weather Service.
“It’s a widespread storm,” Brian Hastings, director of the Alabama Management Agency, said in an interview with WSFA, who said state EMA and transportation officials were already in Lee County to respond.
“We have historic flooding to the north and historic flooding on the Tombigbee [River], and now this storm system that just went through, and now we’re getting reports of significant damage” in several neighboring counties, Hastings said.
Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather said several homes had been destroyed, creating serious fire hazards as propane leaked from damaged tanks.