The number of tornadoes confirmed to have touched down in a deadly outbreak across the Southeast in early March was at least 36.
Survey teams for the National Weather Service found evidence of the twisters in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
The most powerful was an E4 tornado blamed for killing 23 people March 3 in rural Lee County, Alabama. Its destructive winds reached 170 mph (274 kph) as it carved a path of destruction nearly a mile wide. The tornado trekked nearly 70 miles (113 kilometers) from western Alabama into Georgia after crossing the Chattahoochee River at the state line.
The weather service said 90 people were injured. All of the tornado deaths were in Alabama, though several people in Georgia were injured.
The twister was part of a powerful storm system that slashed its way across the Deep South, spawning numerous tornado warnings. Government teams surveying storm damage said at least 18 tornadoes struck on March 3 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina alone.
Surveyors found that the twister’s intensity peaked in Beauregard, a rural Lee County community, where it demolished multiple manufactured homes, emptying their contents into the woods.
The tornado swept up and scattered the debris so widely that the metal frames of two of those homes could not be located.
Mobile homes tucked among tall pine trees were swept from their bases and smashed into unrecognizable piles of rubble. Toys, clothes, insulation, water heaters and pieces of metal were scattered across the hillsides where once towering pines were snapped in half.
An unincorporated community of roughly 10,000 people near the Georgia state line, Beauregard is in the same county as Auburn University. The community has a few small stores, two schools and a volunteer fire department.
The weather service found evidence that two tornadoes struck the area. Meteorologist Chris Darden said the one that did most of the destruction was the EF4 “monster tornado.” He said it was the deadliest to hit the U.S. since May 2013, when an EF5 killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.
“It looks like someone almost just took a giant knife and scraped the ground,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.
Tornado outbreaks in early March aren’t unusual in the Alabama-Mississippi area, tornado experts said – in fact, the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center had warned people three days before the disaster to be on the lookout for higher tornado activity in the region. University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said government forecasters “were all over it.”
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