Tornado deaths over weekend exceed 2016 toll

By Azadeh Ansari, Joe Sterling and Joe Sutton CNN

(CNN) -- The Southeast picked up the pieces on Monday after deadly tornadoes tore through the region, killing more people in one weekend than in all of last year, and officials called out for the federal government to urgently help their devastated communities.

At least 41 reported twisters ravaged the southern states over the weekend, killing 19 people and destroying homes, CNN meteorologists reported. Tornadoes were reported in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. In 2016, tornadoes left 17 people dead across the country.

Chris Cohilas, the chairman of the Dougherty County Commission in southwestern Georgia, said storms slammed his county earlier in the month and these latest twisters compounded the problem.

He has implored the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get "boots on the ground" to help the community since the storms on January 2 and warnings of more to come. So far, he said, FEMA has not been responsive and he aired his frustrations with the agency.

"To get caught up in the bureaucratic red tape at a time of this amount of human suffering is disgraceful," he said at a press conference on Monday.

"I would ask that President Trump take some significant steps to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and to get us some people on the damn ground."

The barreling twisters left people stunned and communities devastated. They reminded one survivor in Georgia of a scene from a horror movie.

"All you hear is people screaming, 'Help me, help me,' " said AJ Miley, a resident of the Sunshine Mobile Home Park in Georgia, according to CNN affiliate WSB-TV.

Devocheo Williams also at the location said he saw people "tossed through the air," the TV station reported

"All I saw was a little girl flown up and thrown in a ditch. Three seconds later, the trailer got picked up off the ground and landed on top of the mother and son," Williams said.

When the howling winds subsided, the landscape across the Southeast was dotted with overturned cars, debris and scores of damaged mobile homes.

Elsewhere, along the Eastern Seaboard and in California, millions were facing potentially disastrous storms Monday as deadly storms continue to churn.

Heavy rain and strong winds are also expected across the Mid-Atlantic, with gusts near 60 mph possible in New York City and heavy snow beginning on Monday in New England.

Flash flood watches were in effect in the Los Angeles area, with small pockets of the region under mandatory evacuation orders after heavy downpours triggered minor mud and debris flows. Storms are blamed for two deaths in California.

Deadly Georgia storms

Across the South all watches and warnings had expired and the rough weather gave way to partly cloudy skies and moderate winds on Monday.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency in seven southern counties, and he said the state will seek federal assistance to help storm-stricken areas. Fifteen people were confirmed dead across the state.

"These storms have devastated communities and homes in south central Georgia, and the state is making all resources available to the impacted areas," Deal said in a statement.

One of the most chaotic scenes unfolded Sunday at the Sunshine Acres mobile home park near Adel in Cook County, Georgia.

"You can imagine putting a bomb in a mobile home and having it explode. That's about what it looks like," Adel Mayor Buddy Duke said Sunday of Sunshine Acres, a community of about 60 mobile homes some 200 miles south of Atlanta.

Five people remain missing, Duke said.

"It's heartbreaking," said Edward Allen, a resident who helped search for survivors, according to WSB-TV. "It's really affected our community."

Cohilas and Dougherty County Emergency Management Director Ron Rowe, speaking to reporters, described a devastated community.

Rowe said there had been a few days of watches and warnings and before the storms authorities worked to tell people to be prepared. Cohilas said the confirmed death toll in Dougherty of four people is sure to rise.

"We have a lot of people that have been separated from their families that have no homes, no food, no warmth and no hope," he said. We need a lot of help in Dougherty County." Industry and farms have been hit hard, affecting jobs.

Severe storms hammered the community on January 2. He said Gov. Deal's request for expedited assistance from FEMA has been "pending for almost two weeks now without any action from FEMA."

Cohilas said he went to Washington to meet with lawmakers "who were very helpful in trying to get us some answers from FEMA and conveying and expressing our needs."

He noted that the reasons why federal government exists is to help people in such dire straits.

"We need people here to help us," he said.

CNN has requested a response from FEMA to Cohilas' comments.

As the rain and wind intensified Sunday, the National Weather Service issued a rare "high risk" alert for severe thunderstorms, including strong tornadoes, for south Georgia and northern Florida. The alert, which lasted through Sunday evening, was the first of its kind issued since June 2014.

Fatal tornado in Mississippi

Preliminary damage assessments conducted in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Saturday showed a tornado packed winds reaching between 136 and 165 mph.

It killed four people and injured more than 50 people in Forrest County, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency reported. Most damage was near the cities of Hattiesburg and Petal.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency. In Alabama, 15 counties reported storm-related damage.

West Coast warnings

Flash flood watches and evacuation orders have been issued for cities in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties, and flash flooding has been reported around Los Angeles and San Diego.

Two people are missing off the coast of Pebble Beach, the US Coast Guard said. Officials said they suspended search efforts indefinitely pending "any new information." The search was stopped due to deteriorating weather conditions.

Coast Guard Ensign Courtney Hanson said one of the missing is male, and the other is female. Both are Chinese nationals.

In northern California's Mendocino County, a 125-foot-tall oak tree fell into a single-story apartment, killing a 36-year-old woman on Saturday morning, Capt. Pete Bushby of the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority told CNN.

The woman was in bed with her boyfriend sleeping when the tree fell, officials said. The boyfriend survived, along two children in the home.

The rains weakened the oak tree, and it's a weather-related death, Bushby said.

Authorities in San Diego County are working to recover the body of an adult from a swollen creek, San Diego Sheriff's Department spokesman Ryan Keim told CNN on Sunday. Rescuers are also searching for a child in the creek.

CNN's Darran Simon, Carma Hassan, Monica Garrett and Dave Hennen contributed to this report.

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