BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — President Donald Trump plans a Friday visit to rural Lee County, Alabama, where federal disaster response teams arrived after he declared an emergency in wake of the deadly tornado outbreak Sunday.
The president is expected to arrive at 11:30 a.m. ET.
A powerful EF4 tornado with punishing winds of 170 mph (274 kph) has been blamed for killing 23 people in Lee County as it scoured a nearly mile-wide path that stretched roughly 70 miles (112 kilometers) from western Alabama into neighboring Georgia.
Trump’s immediate action declaring an emergency won him praise from Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama.
“I want to thank him in advance for coming to Alabama and for this emergency declaration,” Jones told a news conference Thursday after touring one of the hardest-hit areas of the small Beauregard community. He added: “Seeing the devastation will take your breath away.”
The National Weather Service says a violent storm system that crossed the Southeast on Sunday spawned at least 36 tornadoes in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. All of the tornado deaths were in Alabama, though several people in Georgia were injured.
Funeral services for the dead began Thursday. Among the first to be buried was Marshall Lynn Grimes, 59, who perished along with his girlfriend and an 11-year-old friend of Grimes’ daughter when the tornado demolished his mobile home.
Volunteers reporting to help in Lee County were being given protective gear before fanning out to help clear storm debris from roads while survivors combed through the remains of shattered homes for any family photos, clothing and other belongings they could salvage.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said authorities had responded to only a few reports of possible looting in the area.
Roughly 100 law enforcement officers from outside the county were assisting recovery efforts, Jones said. He warned that anyone caught looting “will go to jail.”
The national Storm Prediction Center said there’s a chance of more severe weather beginning Saturday in an area from Arkansas to Tennessee — including central and northern Alabama.
Associated Press writers Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; contributed to this report.