Death toll rises to 18 as weekend storms ravage Southeast

Jenny Bullard carries a pair of boots through what was once her living room damaged by a tornado, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Adel, Ga. (AP)

ATLANTA, Ga (AP) — An emergency official says three more people have been killed as violent storms tore across southern Georgia throughout Sunday.

Sebon Burns, chief deputy emergency management director for Georgia’s Dougherty County, says “fatalities and a lot of injuries” have been reported since an apparent tornado cut a path through the county Sunday afternoon.

The total number of deaths from storms that hit Georgia Sunday morning and afternoon increased to 14.  Four people were also killed after a tornado hit southern Mississippi early Saturday.

Earlier Sunday the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reported 11 total deaths had been confirmed in three other Georgia counties after storms hit before dawn Sunday.

A wide area of Georgia and parts of South Carolina and Florida remained under tornado watches Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, the governor of Georgia has declared a state of emergency in seven counties that have suffered deaths, injuries and severe damage from weekend storms.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s office says Sunday the emergency declaration includes Brooks, Cook and Berrien counties – where 11 people were earlier confirmed dead in south central Georgia near the Florida state line.

Also included were Atkinson, Colquitt, Lowndes and Thomas counties.

Seven of those dead in south Georgia were at a mobile home park after a powerful storm tore through the area overnight.

Cook County Coroner Tim Purvis says an apparent tornado “leveled” numerous mobile homes before dawn Sunday in the park near Adel. Video from CNN showed destroyed homes and fallen trees in Adel near Sunshine Acres Mobile Home Park.

Purvis says emergency responders were still searching for survivors hours later.

Purvis estimates the park has about 40 mobile homes total and roughly half of them were destroyed.

Brooks County Coroner Michael Miller says Sunday he was called to assist in neighboring Cook County, where an apparent tornado that struck before dawn left “mobile homes thrown everywhere.”

Miller says two people died in Brooks County when an apparent tornado tossed a mobile home roughly 100 yards into the middle of a highway.

Catherine Howden of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency put the death toll from severe weather in the state to 11, with 23 injured. She says the deaths occurred in Cook, Brooks and Berrien counties near the Georgia-Florida line.

In addition to 14 killed in Georgia on Sunday, four people were killed in a tornado in Mississippi on Saturday.

Georgia Governor Deal says in a statement state agencies are “making all resources available” to affected counties and “our thoughts and prayers are with Georgians suffering from the storm’s impact.”

The National Weather Service says southern Georgia, northern Florida and the corner of southeastern Alabama could face “intense and long track” tornadoes, scattered damaging winds and large hail.

The weather service says a “severe thunderstorm and tornado outbreak is expected today across north Florida and south Georgia, with the significant  severe threat also expected to extend southward into central Florida and northeastward into South Carolina this evening.”

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