PHOTOS: Tornado in Alabama kills at least 23

Danny Allen helps recover belongings while sifting through the debris of a friend's home destroyed by a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., March 4, 2019. (Photo: David Goldman/AP)

Rescuers began tearing through the rubble of mobile homes and houses Monday in search of survivors of a powerful tornado that rampaged through southeast Alabama and killed at least 23 people, including children.

The trail of destruction was at least half a mile wide and overwhelmed rural Lee County's coroners' office, forcing it to call in help from the state.

"It looks like someone almost just took a giant knife and scraped the ground," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said of the devastation during a Monday morning news conference.

Jones said children were among the dead, but he didn't know exactly how many. And he said the number of deaths may rise as the search continues.

Drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors, but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Jones said.

The Sunday tornado, which had winds that appeared to be around 160 mph (257 kph) or greater, was part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Levi Baker, who lives near the hard-hit area in Alabama, took a chain saw to help clear a path for ambulances and other first-responder vehicles. He said he saw bodies of dead people and dead animals.

He said some houses were demolished and trees were uprooted or snapped in half. One house was swept off its foundation and was sitting in the middle of the road.

"It was just destruction," Baker said. "There were mobile homes gone. Frames on the other side of the road."

Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard reducing homes to slabs.

Scott Fillmer was at home when the storm hit in Lee County.

"I looked out the window and it was nothing but black, but you could hear that freight train noise," Fillmer said.

The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating caused the destruction in Alabama. Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kph). (AP)

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Debris from a home litters a yard the day after a tornado blew it off its foundation, lower right, in Beauregard, Ala., March 4, 2019. (Photo: David Goldman/AP)
Debris litters the property of a destroyed home on Lee County Road 63 in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019, the day after a deadly tornado ravaged the area. (Photo: Julie Bennett/AP)
Brittney Downs looks through the debris of a family member's destroyed home the day after a deadly tornado ravaged the area, in Beauregard, Ala., March 4, 2019. (Photo: Julie Bennett/AP)
Danny Allen recovers a family photo while sifting through the debris of a friend's home destroyed by a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., March 4, 2019. (Photo: David Goldman/AP)
Damage is seen from a tornado which killed at least 23 people in Beauregard, Alabama on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images)
A fallen cell tower lies across U.S. Route 280 highway in Lee County, Ala., in the Smiths Station community after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area, March 3, 2019.(Photo: Mike Haskey/Ledger-Enquirer via AP)
Damage is seen from a tornado which killed at least 23 people in Beauregard, Alabama on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images)
Damage is seen from a tornado which killed at least 23 people in Beauregard, Alabama on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images)
Damage is seen from a tornado which killed at least 23 people in Beauregard, Alabama on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images)
Damage is seen at a home from a tornado which killed at least 23 people in Beauregard, Alabama on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images)
Damage from a tornado which killed at least 23 people is seen as Lee county deputies secure the scene in Beauregard, Alabama on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of a tornado seen in the distance at Warner Robins, Georgia, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 picture obtained from social media . (Photo: Keith Irwin /via Reuters)
Emergency responders work in the scene amid debris in Lee County, Ala., after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area, March 3, 2019. Severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and left a trail of destruction amid weather warnings extending into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, authorities said. (Photo: WKRG-TV via AP)
This photo shows debris in Lee County, Ala., after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area, March 3, 2019. Severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and left a trail of destruction amid weather warnings extending into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, authorities said. (Photo: WKRG-TV via AP)
People walk amid debris in Lee County, Ala., after what appeared to be a tornado struck in the area, March 3, 2019. Severe storms destroyed mobile homes, snapped trees and left a trail of destruction amid weather warnings extending into Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, authorities said. (Photo: WKRG-TV via AP)
Emergency personnel work the staging area at Sanford Middle School in Beauregard, Ala., March 3, 2019, after tornados ravaged the area, causing multiple fatalities. (Photo: Julie Bennett/AP)
Damaged trees seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
Debris of housing seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
Debris and a damaged house seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
Damaged trees seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
Damaged and fallen trees seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
Fallen trees obstruct a road following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
Debris and a damaged house seen following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)
A piece of metal is seen wrapped around a tree following a tornado in Beauregard, Alabama, U.S. in this March 3, 2019 still image obtained from social media video on March 4, 2019. (Photo: Scott Fillmer /via Reuters)

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