23 dead in Lee County, AL after multiple tornadoes hit the Chattahoochee Valley

The NWS says the first tornado that impacted Lee County was an EF-4 and at least half a mile wide.
Updated: Mar. 3, 2019 at 1:22 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

(WTVM) - On Sunday, the Chattahoochee Valley was ravaged by a series of destructive tornadoes leaving many of our residents without basic necessities such as food and shelter. As the storm passes, residents are beginning to survey the destruction that was left in it’s wake.

The National Weather Service in Birmingham says the first tornado that impacted Lee County Sunday afternoon was an EF-4 and at least half a mile wide. There were 2 other possible EF-3 tornadoes in the area as well.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones reports that 22 people in Lee County have been killed following the severe weather and extensive tornado damage on Sunday afternoon.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said he has requested assistance from the state mortuary response team.He didn’t give any details about the locations or exact circumstances of the deaths, but stated the victims ranged in age from children to older adults.

A majority of those deceased have been identified, but the names have not yet been released. Sheriff Jones says more than one of those fatalities is a child, though.

Lee-Scott Academy in Auburn has confirmed one of their fourth-grade students, Taylor Thornton, was killed in the storms.

“This is a day of destruction for Lee County. We’ve never had a mass fatality situation, that I can remember, like this in my lifetime,” Harris said.

It’s still unclear how many people were injured, although injuries reportedly range from minor to very severe. Sunday afternoon, East Alabama Medical Center said it had received more than 40 patients as a result of the tornado and more were expected. Some of the patients were sent to surrounding hospitals. EAMC officials said elective procedures at the hospital for Monday have been cancelled.

EMA officials said they are still assessing the damage and injuries in the Beauregard area and with more than 200 first responders are on the scene.

They are continuing search and rescue efforts as Jones reports that the number of missing people remains in the double digits.

The coroner said Sunday night there were still areas that authorities hadn’t reached, saying that many of the areas were hard to access due to the amount of debris. Rescuers are also utilizing K-9 units, ground searches, and drones with infrared sensors yo help in the efforts.

Jones states that they are now focusing their efforts on one square mile that was very damaged. He says that the number of deaths could go higher as they continue their recovery efforts.

Anyone who has a missing family member can call his office’s 24-hour phone number at 334-737-3620. You can also go to the Lee County EMA website.

Extensive damage such as fallen trees, broken power lines, and destroyed buildings, have been reported in many places including Beauregard, Talbotton, and Smiths Station.

At the peak of the storm, over 11,000 residents were without power in Lee County alone. Many of them remain without power still.

As the damage storms passed and residents began surveying the damage many were left homeless as the tornadoes ripped through hundreds of structures across the Valley.

Residents reported destroyed homes and buildings in areas including Stewart County, Eufaula, Dothan, and Bullock county. Smiths Station Mayor Fred Copeland says they lost around 24 homes in their town alone.

Once you are safe and able to send pictures of storm damage please send them pix@wtvm.com. Here’s some pictures of the damage so far:

Lee county reports that the outpouring of support they have received following the storms has been amazing. People from near and far are stepping up and trying to help.

Local residents that were not affected are banning together and collecting supplies and donations. Even national volunteers with the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse are flooding the area and lending a hand. You can find a complete list of resources and ways to donate here.

The Smiths Station Volunteer Fire Department Station is being designated as an area for citizens affected by the storms to seek assistance with sheltering or other unmet needs.

The Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard also opened as a Red Cross shelter You can find a complete list of affected victim shelters here.

Roads across the Chattahoochee Valley are being shut down as crews assess damage and attempt to clear debris and fallen trees or power lines.

Many roads in the hardest hit areas of Lee County have been shut down indefinitely, including Lee Rd. 166, Lee Rd. 721, and Lee Rd. 165. You can find a complete list of affected roadways here.

Schools in multiple school districts, including Lee and Talbot, are closed due to the extensive storm damage. You can find a complete list of closings here.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in multiple counties in Georgia that were also hit hard by the tornadoes. The state of emergency in Harris, Talbot, and Grady Counties will allow for state assistance in their recovery efforts.

Kemp toured the damaged areas on Monday then gave a brief press conference at Central High School in Talbotton.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also has extended the state of emergency she issued on Feb. 23 to cover the entire state.

Governor Ivey joined the Alabama Emergency Management for a press conference on Monday afternoon to give an update on recovery efforts.

Ivey stated that she was in contact with president Trump as the two craft an expedited disaster declaration plan.

She also thanked first responders and addressed Lee county residents saying “To the people of Lee county, please know that we are here today to stand with you, today, tomorrow, and in the days and weeks ahead. We will stand together and get through this together.”

WATCH LIVE NOW: Lee County EMA holds press conference with Gov. Ivey following deadly tornadoes

Posted by WTVM News Leader 9 on Monday, March 4, 2019

The National Weather Service in Birmingham says the first tornado that impacted Lee County Sunday afternoon was an EF-4 and at least half a mile wide.

The winds were estimated to be as high as 170 mph, blowing debris thousands of yards.

Reports say the tornado was on the ground for nearly 24 miles and was the deadliest tornado since the 2013 tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma.

The same tornado continued on into Georgia destroying parts of Talbotton and Cairo.

There were 3 other dangerous tornadoes in the area as well- an EF-1 in Macon County, and an EF-1 in Barbour County, and an EF-1 in Pine Mountain.

WATCH LIVE: Multiple Tornadoes confirmed in the Chattahoochee Valley >>> https://bit.ly/2XD6w2X

Posted by WTVM News Leader 9 on Sunday, March 3, 2019
  • 1:50- Tornado watches and severe thunderstorm warnings have be issued for all counties in the Chattahoochee Valley.
  • 2:00- Tornado warnings have also been issued for Lee, Stewart, Webster, Quitman, Sumter, and Terrell counties in Georgia until 3:00PM. The tornado warning for Muscgoee county has been decreased to a watch.
  • 3:00- A tornado has been confirmed in east Alabama. The touchdown reportedly occurred south of Auburn. It is currently traveling east towards Smith’s Station. The tornado’s path also includes lower Harris and norther Muscogee county.
  • 3:10- Current reports say the tornado will miss uptown, and midtown Columbus but could touchdown in northern Columbus. It is expected to hit near or slightly north of J.R. Allen Pkwy. There is reported power outage across the Columbus area.
  • 3:15- The national weather service has described it as a “large and extremely dangerous” tornado. Winds have been recorded as high as 151 mph winds.
  • 3: 20- The tornado is still on the ground currently near north Smith Station, crossing hwy 280.
  • 3:35- So far, 1,300 Lee county residents have reported power outages.
  • 3:40- A second tornado has been spotted and warrants re-issued for Lee County, AL
  • 3:43- A Gas station on 280 has been reportedly completely removed, among many other structures nearby.
  • 3:44- Multiple injuries reported in Lee County, AL. The two tornado both remain on the ground.
  • 3:45- Tornado Warnings issued for Chattahoochee and Marion Counties.
  • 3:47- Lee County seek shelter again. A second tornado is expected to touchdown in the area.
  • 3:47- Trees and power lines reportedly down on River Rd. and Veterans Parkway in Columbus
  • 4:00- Possible warnings for Harris County
  • 4:06- A second possible-tornado is crossing 280 into Smith Station
  • 4:08- Tornado warning for northern Muscogee County and southern Harris County
  • 4:09- All Traffic being diverted from hwy 280 westbound due to extensive damage
  • 4:10- New tornado warnings for parts of Taylor and Schley Counties
  • 4:15- New warning takes effect for north Muscogee county and south Harris County
  • 4:16- Reported trees down on I-185
  • 4:20- New Tornado warning for Bullet and Barbour County
  • 4:20- Muscogee County warning has been cleared
  • 4:23- Cell tower reported down on Veterans Pwky
  • 4:29- least two confirmed fatalities in Lee Co. AL
  • 4:32- Extensive damage reported on Lee Road 430
  • 4:33- Multiple houses destroyed alone Hwy 186 and hwy 165
  • 4:40- Alabama troopers asking people to stay off the roads as they begin recovery efforts
  • 4:41- Macon, Lee, Troup, Harris, and Muscogee Counties cleared for all warnings
  • 4:48- Massive damage in Talbotton, 1 mile north of the courthouse. Officials say there is a 1/2 mile patch of land that has been flattened.
  • 4:55- Russell County Warnings have been cleared
  • 5:07- Ellaville warned to seek shelter
  • 5:09- Barbour County threats have been cleared
  • 5:10- Quitman County urged to seek shelter
  • 5:15- Schley and Macon Counties in Georgia are encouraged to take shelter as they are currently under a tornado warning
  • 5:20- Chambers, Lee, Russell, Barbour, Harris, Musccogee, Chattahoochee, Randolph Meriweather, Bullock, Troup, Talbot counties all cleared as safe
  • 5:33- Damage reported at the Eufaula Airport and fire station.
  • 5:40- Calhoun, Geneva, Randolph, Early, Dougherty, Clay, Henry, Terrell, Miller, Houston, Dale, Seminole- all under sever thunderstorm warnings.
  • 5:45- Tornado confirmed south of Dothan
  • 5:55- Calhoun and Randolph counties remain under tornado warning
  • 6:18- Extensive damage reported in Pine mountain
  • 6:20- Sumter County cleared of all warnings
  • 6:22- Clay and Quitman county no longer under tornado warning
  • 6:24: Tornadoes currently located south of Dothan and in southern Randolph county
  • 6:25- All areas in the immediate region have been cleared of all warnings

Check here for the comprehensive live list of all warnings.

Stay safe and follow News leader 9 on air, online, and on our mobile app for the latest updates.

Copyright 2019 WTVM. All rights reserved.