The death toll has increased to 23 from a tornado that tore through Lee County in eastern Alabama Sunday afternoon, Coroner Bill Harris says. Sheriff Jay Jones described damage as "catastrophic" based on the destruction of homes in the area, CBS affiliate WRBL-TV reported. Jones confirmed children were among the dead and some people were still thought to be missing. A search and rescue operation was ongoing.

Dozens were injured, according to officials of area hospitals.

Jones told WRBL-TV he couldn't recall "at least in the last 50 years ... a situation where we have had this loss of life that we experienced today."

Multiple homes were destroyed or damaged in Beauregard, about 60 miles east of Montgomery, Rita Smith, a spokesperson for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, told The Associated Press.

The area was dark and electricity appeared to be knocked out in many places late Sunday. Pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered the roadside.

Scott Fillmer, of nearby Auburn, Alabama, tweeted video that gives an idea of the destruction the twister left behind:


Mayor Fred "Bubba" Copeland, of Smiths Station, a small city in Lee County, told CBS News some 20 homes were destroyed there and many people had to be rescued. He helped pull two trapped elderly women from a home.

A sign from the Lee County Flea Market was found 20 miles away, in Hamilton, Georgia.

The National Weather Service said there were indications the tornado that struck Lee County was at least an EF-3, which means it had winds estimated at 158-to-206 mph. A more complete analysis was planned for daylight Monday. The twister was estimated to be at least half a mile wide.