Beauregard, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — Rescue crews using dogs and drones searched for victims amid splintered lumber and twisted metal Monday after the deadliest U.S. tornado in nearly six years ripped through a rural Alabama community. At least 23 people were killed, some of them children.
Dozens were missing in Lee County nearly a day after the twister struck, according to the sheriff, who said that crews had combed the hardest-hit areas but that other places had yet to be searched.
The winds Sunday afternoon obliterated numerous homes, leaving huge, jumbled piles of wood and household belongings. Some homes were reduced to concrete slabs. Debris was scattered across the countryside, with shredded metal hanging from the pine trees.
"I'm not going to be surprised if we don't come up with some more deceased. Hopefully we won't," Coroner Bill Harris said. He said the dead included almost entire families and at least three children, ages 6, 9 and 10.
A post on the Lee-Scott Academy's Facebook page said fourth-grader Taylor Thornton was among those killed.
On the day after the disaster, volunteers used chain saws to clear paths for emergency workers. Neighbors and friends helped one another find some of their belongings in the ruins.
Carol Dean found her wedding dress among the wreckage of her mobile home. But the storm took her 53-year-old husband. She said David Wayne Dean was at home Sunday afternoon and had texted a friend to beware when the tornado hit.
"He didn't make it out," she said.
Dean said she rushed home from her job at Walmart when she couldn't reach her husband on the phone. She pushed her way past sheriff's deputies who tried to keep her out of the damaged area. Her children had found David Dean's body in a neighbor's yard.
"They took me down to him," Dean said, "and I got to spend a little time with him before they took him away."
At the R&D Grocery, rattled residents asked one another if they were OK. And a big banner that read "#BEAUREGARDSTRONG" was hung on a fence at Beauregard High School.
The National Weather Service said one and possibly two tornadoes struck the area, with a powerful EF-4 twister with winds estimated at 170 mph (274 kph) blamed for most of the destruction. It carved a path nearly a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide and 24 miles (39 kilometers) long, said meteorologist Chris Darden.
Darden said the "monster tornado" was the deadliest twister to hit the U.S. since May 2013, when an EF-5 killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.
"It looks like someone almost just took a giant knife and scraped the ground," Sheriff Jay Jones said.
County Emergency Management Director Kathy Carson said she was "pretty sure" that tornado sirens in Beauregard sounded warnings but that authorities were busy with the search-and-rescue and had not yet looked into the question.
Crews searching door-to-door used dogs as well as drones that can detect heat from a body. "We're basically using everything we can get our hands on," the sheriff said.
President Donald Trump tweeted that he told the Federal Emergency Management Agency to give Alabama "the A Plus treatment."
The twister was part of a powerful storm system that slashed its way across the Deep South, spawning numerous tornado warnings in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
"All we could do is just hold on for life and pray," said Jonathan Clardy, who huddled with his family inside their Beauregard trailer as the tornado ripped the roof off. "It's a blessing from God that me and my young'uns are alive."
Beauregard, named for a Confederate general, is an unincorporated community of roughly 10,000 people near the Georgia state line. The community is in the same county as Auburn University and has a few small stores, two schools and a volunteer fire department dotting the main highway.
"Everybody in Beauregard is a real close-knit family," Clardy said. "Everybody knows everybody around here. Everybody is heartbroken."
Julie Morrison and her daughter-in-law picked through the ruins of Morrison's home in Beauregard, looking for keys and a wallet. They managed to salvage her husband's motorcycle boots and a Bible.
Morrison said she and her husband took shelter in the bathtub as the twister lifted their house off the ground and swept it into the woods.
"We knew we were flying because it picked the house up," Morrison said, figuring that the shower's fiberglass enclosure helped them survive. She said her son-in-law later dug them out.
Along one hard-hit country road, giant pieces of metal from a farm building dangled from pine branches 20 feet (6 meters) in the air, making loud creaking sounds as the wind blew. For an entire mile down the road, pines were snapped in half. A mobile home crushed by two trees marked the end of the path of destruction.
An early March tornado outbreak in the Alabama-Mississippi area is not unusual, tornado experts said.
The weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, posted forecasts for higher tornado activity in the region on Thursday, three days before the disaster. University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd said government forecasters "were all over it."
An EF-5 tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, in May 2011 killed 158 people. And an outbreak of tornadoes in the Southeast a month before that left an estimated 316 people dead, including at least 250 in Alabama.
Dhaka, Mar 4 (UNB) -The body of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was likely burned in a large oven at the Saudi consulate general's residence in Istanbul, an Al Jazeera investigation revealed.
New details of the writer's murder by a Saudi assassination team were reported in a documentary by Al Jazeera Arabic that aired on Sunday night, reports Al Jazeera.
Turkish authorities monitored the burning of the outdoor furnace as bags believed to be carrying Khashoggi's body parts were transferred to the Saudi consul's house after he was killed inside the consulate a few hundred metres away.
Al Jazeera interviewed a worker who constructed the furnace who stated it was built according to specifications from the Saudi consul. It had to be deep and withstand temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius - hot enough to melt metal.
Bags of meat were also cooked in the oven after the killing in order to cover up the cremation of the Saudi writer's body, authorities reported.
Turkish investigators also found traces of Khashoggi's blood on the walls of the Saudi consul's office after removing paint that the assassination team applied after killing the Washington Post columnist on October 2, 2018.
UN: Riyadh 'undermined' Turkey's access to Khashoggi murder scene (2:00)
The documentary was based on interviews with security officials, politicians, and some of Khashoggi's Turkish friends.
A critic of Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Khashoggi entered the consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork so he could marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.
Riyadh initially insisted Khashoggi had left the consulate alive before changing its account and admitting the journalist was killed in an operation it said was undertaken by "rogue elements".
A CIA report said MBS likely ordered Khashoggi's killing - an allegation Saudi Arabia denies.
Eleven suspects have been indicted for Khashoggi's murder in Saudi Arabia, which has insisted it would handle the case and refused their extradition to Turkey.
United Nation's special rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who is leading an international inquiry into the murder, called it "a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the state of Saudi Arabia".
The international investigation started in late January and an official report is due in June.
Beauregard, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — An apparent tornado roared into southeast Alabama and killed at least 22 people and injured several others Sunday, part of a severe storm system that caused catastrophic damage and unleashed other tornadoes around the Southeast.
"We are at 22 right now. Unfortunately, I feel like that number may rise yet again," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said of the death toll.
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. An intense ground search would resume Monday morning.
Jones said the apparent twister traveled straight down a key local artery in Beauregard and that the path of damage and destruction appeared at least a half mile wide. He said single-family homes and mobile homes were destroyed, adding some homes were reduced to slabs. He had told reporters earlier that several people were taken to hospitals, some with "very serious injuries."
Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told The Associated Press that he had to call in help from the state, because there were more bodies than his four-person office can handle.
Dozens of emergency responders rushed to join search and rescue efforts in hard-hit Lee County after what forecasters said they think was a large tornado touched down Sunday afternoon, unleashed by a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Radar and video evidence showed what looked like a large tornado crossing the area near Beauregard shortly after 2 p.m. Sunday, said meteorologist Meredith Wyatt with the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service.
"It appears it stayed on the ground for at least a mile and maybe longer," Jones told the AP.
After nightfall Sunday, the rain had stopped and pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered roadways in Beauregard. Two sheriff's vehicles blocked reporters and others from reaching the worst-hit area. Power appeared to be out in many places.
President Donald Trump tweeted late Sunday, "To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. ... To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!"
Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to efforts to search the debris after the storm struck in Beauregard. At least one trained canine could be seen with search crews as numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, converged on the area.
No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties outside Lee County, said Gregory Robinson, spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. But he said crews were still surveying damage in several counties in the southwestern part of the state.
Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the powerful storm system raced across the region. Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out early Monday to assess those and other storms.
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds or a tornado that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.
Televised broadcast news footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.
"The last check I had was between six and eight injuries," Erenheim said in a phone interview. "From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken."
She said searches of damaged homes and structures had turned up no serious injuries or deaths there.
Henry Wilson of the Peach County Emergency Management Agency near Macon in central Georgia said a barn had been destroyed and trees and power poles had been snapped, leaving many in the area without power.
Authorities in southwest Georgia are searching door-to-door in darkened neighborhoods after a possible tornado touched down in the rural city of Cairo, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) north of Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday evening. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon. A portion of Interstate 10 on the Panhandle was blocked in one direction for a time in Walton County in the aftermath, said Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.
"There's a squall line moving through the area," Harrigan told AP. "And when you have a mature line of storms moving into an area where low level winds are very strong, you tend to have tornadoes developing. It's a favorable environment for tornados."
The threat of severe weather continued into the late-night hours. A tornado watch was in effect for much of eastern Georgia, including Athens, Augusta and Savannah. The tornado watch also covered a large area of South Carolina, including the cities of Charleston and Columbia.
Syria, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Islamic State militants are desperately fighting to hang on to the last tiny piece of territory they hold on the riverside in eastern Syria, deploying snipers, guided missiles and surprise tunnel attacks. The resistance prompted a fierce pounding Sunday by the U.S-led coalition and its ground allies in their final push to end the extremist group's territorial hold.
Rings of black smoke billowed over the besieged speck of land still controlled by the group in the village of Baghouz, after airstrikes hit several targets.
Mortar rounds from a hill overlooking a tent encampment where the militants are still holed up rang into the night.
The U.S.-backed force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces resumed an offensive to recapture the area in Baghouz on Friday night, after a two-week pause to allow for the evacuation of civilians from the area. Retaking the sliver of land would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to end IS' self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate that once straddled vast territory across Syria and Iraq.
The group continues to be a threat, however, with sleeper cells in scattered desert pockets along the porous border between the two countries.
SDF commanders estimate that hundreds of fighters remain in Baghouz, taking cover in tunnels and trenches.
A senior SDF commander described the militants as "rats" but acknowledged that they're still fighting to the bitter end.
Commander Akeed, who leads one of the main fronts in the last battle against IS, said the militants are sticking to their trademark techniques, carrying out swift attacks without aiming to hold ground but laying the area with mines to increase casualties. They also deploy "inghimasiyoun," a term that the group uses to refer to infiltrators who enter areas behind their enemies' lines, in a bid to take hostages.
Early Sunday, one of Akeed's units came under attack from a group of 10 IS militants, including four women who emerged from a tunnel but were met with fire. At least two militants died but the rest escaped, he said.
"They have said they will engage and won't leave," Akeed told The Associated Press from his position, hundreds of meters from a very noisy front line. "They are strong enemies but they are besieged from three fronts. What could they do? Attack to prove themselves."
What appears to be a major weapons depot was targeted Saturday in the opening salvo of a ground assault on the tent encampment and parts of the villages still in IS hands. On Sunday, airstrikes continued to hit the depot, as fire raged for more than 24 hours and ignited ammunition flew in the air.
Other airstrikes hit another mortar depot on the other edge of the tent encampment, which days ago was full of residents before they were evacuated ahead of the military assault. A third hit a building where a sniper was taking cover.
Sefqan, another SDF commander who leads a special forces unit that advanced into Baghouz Saturday night, said the targeted weapon depot appeared to be a major one for the militants.
He said the airstrikes continued to target the two-floor depot to keep the militants away from whatever remains there.
SDF fighters tightened the noose on the militants Saturday, advancing from two fronts, and cutting off their access to the river that abuts their last territory from two sides.
Mustafa Bali, the SDF spokesman, said coalition airstrikes destroyed several car bombs during the past two days of battle in Baghouz. In a tweet, he said three car bombs that were trying to hit SDF positions were destroyed.
President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, described the territory IS holds as an "insignificant piece of real estate." Asked in an interview with CNN whether IS has been defeated in "100 percent of the land" in Syria, as Trump had asserted earlier this week, he said: "It will happen very, very soon."
The global fight against the Islamic State group is one conflict in a country that has been at civil war for nearly eight years.
Near the northwestern province of Idlib, a Syrian jihadist group linked to al-Qaida killed 21 Syrian soldiers and allied militiamen, in one of the most serious violations of a months-old truce in the area, according to activists and a Syria war monitor.
Sunday's attack by Ansar al-Tawhid fighters was carried out in the village of Massasneh in the north of Hama province, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
A statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack, saying "terrorist groups" launched a pre-planned attack on armed forces stationed along the main road of Massasneh, killing and wounding a number of soldiers.
"Syria confirms the full readiness and integrity of the Syrian army in dealing with these crimes and violations," the statement added.
Berlin, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Hungary's populist prime minister described members of a European Union political group who want his party expelled as "useful idiots," saying in an interview published Sunday they are playing into the hands of left-wing opponents.
Discussion over whether Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party should remain part of the center-right European People's Party intensified after the Hungarian government launched a public ad campaign last month opposing the positions of EU leaders on migration.
Critics see anti-Semitic undertones in the billboards, posters, print and television ads that carry images of Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
By suggesting that Soros influences European Union policies on mass migration, some of those offended by the campaign say it evokes Nazi-era propaganda that portrayed Jews as puppet-masters and international enemies.
Orban said in an interview with Germany's Welt newspaper that EU parliament members who want Fidesz kicked out of the European People's Party were "useful idiots" for the left, using an expression commonly attributed to Lenin.
"While they believe they're fighting in a spiritual struggle, in fact they're serving the power interests of others — indeed, of our opponents," Orban said.
Orban said Hungarians don't consider the posters anti-Semitic.
"I can't do anything about the fact that George Soros is a Hungarian of Jewish origin," he added. Soros has been the target of various Hungarian government smear campaigns in the past few years.
The European People's Party is the largest trans-national political group in the European Parliament. It was founded to represent Christian Democrats.
Some of Fidesz's fellow members, including parties from Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg and Greece, have fiercely criticized Hungary's campaign. The ads follow years of grumbling within the group over Orban's efforts to build an "illiberal state."
The European Parliament voted in September to launch a sanctioning process over the Hungarian government's perceived shortcomings regarding the rule of law and European values. The procedure could lead to Hungary losing its voting rights in the EU.
In his interview with Welt, Orban seemed to offer a possible compromise, which on closer inspection hardly changed his position on the migration policy campaign.
He told the newspaper that government ads against Juncker would soon be withdrawn. However, he said Fidesz would be launching its own campaign, with European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans replacing the EU chief.
Timmermans is the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists to succeed Juncker after May's European Parliament election. He has been highly critical of Orban, and Orban has repeatedly expressed his disdain for the Dutch politician.
The European People's Party candidate seeking to succeed Juncker, Manfred Weber, tweeted in response to Orban's interview that the Hungarian leader was "following the wrong political path, particularly when it comes to style or fundamental questions about the democratic order."
Weber linked to his interview with Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, published Friday, in which he said "Orban badly damaged the EPP" with the Soros poster campaign.
In the interview, he said Orban had a "weak" approach that relies on "scaremongering" instead of persuasive advocacy.
"I expect him to apologize and put an end to the poster campaign," Weber said in the interview. "Beyond that, we cannot simply return to business as usual....We will take concrete steps very soon."
He did not say whether he'd support the removal of Fidesz from the EPP, but told Spiegel "all options are on the table."
"Enough is enough," Weber said. "That is our message."