ADEL, Ga. — Tornadoes in an unusually brutal winter storm system ripped through the southeast Sunday, killing at least 14 people, flattening much of a mobile-home park in this southern Georgia town and prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency in at least seven counties near the Florida border.
The storms were the latest in a series of violent weather in the region that also killed four people in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Saturday. In Georgia, seven people were killed in Cook County, with two more deaths each in neighboring Brooks and Berrien counties, and three in Dougherty County, according to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.
The weather Sunday was particularly devastating in Adel, a rural town of about 5,300 in Cook County where residents in the Sunshine Acres mobile-home park woke about 3 a.m. to a tornado warning. Alan Miley, 26, said he used the bathroom and was walking through the kitchen when he heard a deafening roar and screamed. His cousin, Devocheo Williams, 29, jumped out of bed as the front door blew open, wind and debris swept into the home and windows shattered.
“He shot out of the room, and as soon as he started out, the roof caves in,” Miley said, recalling how he low-crawled to Williams in the bathroom to take cover. “When it let up, I went outside and it was complete chaos. People were screaming and crying for help.”
William Bush, 72, a co-owner of Sunshine Acres, said seven people were killed there and that more than 20 mobile homes were ripped off their foundations and “totally blown away.” He got a call about 3:30 a.m. from employees who live there informing him of the damage.
Bush said area churches sent convoys of buses beginning about 5 a.m. to transport people to shelters. At sunrise, he got a first look at the devastation.
“It was total chaos, devastation everywhere you looked,” he said. “We’ve always said that the most devastating thing that could happen there would be a tornado, and that’s what happened today.”
Nathaniel Fixberry, an Air Force staff sergeant, said he is assigned to Moody Air Force Base, some 20 miles away, and drove to the scene with a friend after Fixberry’s wife, Kathleene, was called into work at South Georgia Medical Center in Valdosta, Ga., to deal with a “mass casualty event” because of the tornado. A firefighter told Fixberry that he had pulled at least one body from rubble along with a few children who survived, he said.
“I would say there was upwards of 10 to 12 homes that were hit,” Fixberry said, recalling mattresses that he saw in trees a half-mile away from Sunshine Acres. “It was hard to tell – nothing was left.”
The death toll rose from 11 to at least 14 people Sunday evening, when another tornado touched down in Dougherty County, including the city of Albany, state officials said.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R.) said in a statement that state officials were assessing the damage, and he was prepared to expand his emergency declaration as needed. It is likely, he added, that he also will submit a request for federal emergency aid.
“These storms have devastated communities and homes in South Central Georgia, and the state is making all resources available to the impacted areas,” Deal said. “These storms have resulted in loss of life, numerous injuries and extensive property damage, and our thoughts and prayers are with Georgians suffering from the storm’s impact.”
President Trump, speaking ahead of the swearing-in ceremony for his senior staff, said Sunday afternoon that he had just spoken to Deal about the storms and “expressed our sincere condolences.”
“We’ll be helping out the state of Georgia,” Trump said.
He also said Florida and Alabama had been impacted, but did not specifically mention the devastation in Mississippi on Saturday. Tornado damage there cut across a 15-mile area, prompting Gov. Phil Bryant (R.) to declare a state of emergency and officials to estimate that damage could soar above $200 million.
“They all got hit hard,” Trump said Sunday. “The tornadoes were vicious and powerful and strong.”
The National Weather Service issued advisories for three separate areas of the southeast on Sunday afternoon warning there was a “high risk” of severe weather. One stretched north to Atlanta’s northern suburbs, with meteorologists warning that “several tornadoes and a few intense tornadoes” were likely, along with “widespread hail and a few very large hail events.”
Another tornado watch covered from eastern Georgia to southern South Carolina, including the cities of Charleston, Savannah, and Augusta. The third watch area covered central Florida, including Tampa and Orlando.
Eileen M. Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said it was monitoring the weather in the region through its office in Atlanta, and touching base with state officials throughout the Southeast from there. FEMA liaison officers have been deployed to Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida to provide help to any response that is needed, she said.
This story was originally published at 4:10 p.m. and updated several times with additional information.
Susan Eastman reported from Adel, Ga., and Dan Lamothe did so from Washington. Jason Samenow and John Wagner contributed to this report.