BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — Pope Francis sent condolences Wednesday to tornado victims in Alabama, where searchers have been scouring a dismal landscape of shattered homes, splintered pines and broken lives.
President Donald Trump said he will visit Alabama on Friday to see the damage.
Meanwhile, tornado-ravaged Alabama and several other southern states will be under threat of more severe storms — including the risk of some tornadoes — with a new system that's arriving in the South this weekend, forecasters say.
In Lee County, Alabama, 23 people were killed and dozens more were injured when the powerful tornado ripped through the small community of Beauregard. The youngest of those killed was 6, the oldest 89.
The search for victims, pets and belongings in and around the devastated rural community of Beauregard was being conducted amid the din of beeping heavy machinery and whining chain saws on Tuesday. But Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said the list of the missing had shrunk from dozens to just seven or eight.
"We've got piles of rubble that we are searching just to make sure," said Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather Jr. "We don't think we'll find nobody there, but we don't want to leave any stone unturned."
The threat of more tornadoes looms across the South. A vast part of the region from Texas to Georgia will be under threat of severe weather Saturday, the national Storm Prediction Center warned. The area at risk of storms is home to 41 million people and includes major cities such as Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was praying for the dead and injured of the Alabama tornado, saying he is spiritually close to all those who are suffering and grieving.
Francis sent a telegram of condolences Wednesday to the bishop of Mobile, Alabama, the Most Rev. Thomas Rodi, saying he was saddened to learn of the "tragic loss of life and injuries" caused by the twister.
Francis prayed for peace and strength for the survivors, and that God "may grant eternal rest to the dead, especially the children, and healing and consolation to the injured and those who grieve."
The tornado was an EF4 with winds estimated at 170 mph (274 kph) and carved a path of destruction up to nine-tenths of a mile (1.4 kilometers) wide in Alabama, scraping up the earth in a phenomenon known as "ground rowing," the National Weather Service said. It traveled a remarkable 70 miles (113 kilometers) or so through Alabama and Georgia, where it caused more damage.
It was the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. since May 2013, when an EF5 twister killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.