At least 23 people, including three children, were killed and more than 50 injured after a string of tornadoes hit Alabama in the United States, Reuters reported. Rescue teams on Monday continued their search for survivors, a day after at least three tornadoes struck eastern Alabama near the Georgia border. Authorities said the toll could rise as rescuers search through the debris in Beauregard.

The tornadoes, caused by a late-winter “supercell” thunderstorm, ripped through Lee County on Sunday afternoon with cyclonic winds of up to 274 km per hour. One of them clocked at step four of the six-step Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado strength. The scale rates the intensity of tornadoes in some countries, including the US and Canada, based on the damage they cause.

Chris Darden, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, said all the deaths were reported from in and around the small community of Beauregard. It is located about 95 km east of the state capital Montgomery. Storm trackers had confirmed two smaller tornadoes measuring on step one of the Fujita scale. “We’ll be examining more areas tomorrow,” said Darden, adding that “a few people” were missing.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said the search operations were halted on Sunday night due to hazardous conditions, AFP reported. “It looks almost as if someone took a giant knife and just scraped the ground,” he said. “There are slabs where homes formerly stood, debris everywhere, trees are snapped.”

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said three of the dead were children aged six, nine and 10. All but six of the victims had been identified, he added.

Authorities said the tornadoes were the deadliest since a storm in Oklahoma in May 2013 killed 24 people and injuring 375. The toll was more than double the 10 people killed by tornadoes in the US in 2018, according to government data.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey extended the state of emergency issued last month due to tornadoes and severe weather, CNN reported. The governor would request President Donald Trump for a disaster declaration to “aid in our recovery efforts”, Ivey tweeted.

Trump said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would assist the state. “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A-plus treatment to the great state of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the tornadoes,” he tweeted on Monday.