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20 killed as storms batter south-eastern US states

At least 20 people have died after violent storms and tornadoes tore through south-eastern US states.

Fifteen died in south Georgia, including seven from an apparent winter tornado which devastated a trailer park before dawn on Sunday.

Authorities reported four deaths on Saturday in Mississippi as the storm system intensified. The storm was so big parts of it threatened the Carolinas and north Florida.

In south Georgia's Cook County, coroner Tim Purvis confirmed seven people died at the mobile home park in the rural community of Adel, where about half of the 40 homes were levelled.

The 15 killed in south Georgia also included two deaths each in the counties of Berrien and Brooks.

In northern Florida, Columbia County Emergency Management director Shayne Morgan said a storm passing through Lake City caused a tree to crash into a house. A woman was injured and later died in hospital.

The National Weather Service in Miami said on social media that two tornadoes touched down early Monday morning in south Florida.

A tornado with top wind speeds of 107mph hit Miami-Dade County, while a tornado reaching speeds of 80-85mph hit Palm Beach County.

Minor flooding was reported across Florida's Panhandle.

In South Carolina, the National Weather Service confirmed that two tornadoes struck over the weekend, injuring one woman who was trapped in a mobile home near Blackville.

The weather service said a tornado touched down at about 3.45pm on Saturday in Barnwell County before moving into Bamberg County. The other occurred in Orangeburg County a few minutes later.

Weather experts say tornadoes can hit any time of year in the US South - including in the dead of winter.

While the central US has a well-defined tornado season - the spring - the risk of tornadoes "never really goes to zero" for most of the year in the south east, said Patrick Marsh of the Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma.

He said 39 possible tornadoes were reported across the region from early on Saturday into Sunday evening - none immediately confirmed. Of those, 30 were reported in Georgia, four in Mississippi, and one each in Louisiana and South Carolina.

January tornado outbreaks are rare but not unprecedented, particularly in the South. Data from the Storm Prediction Centre shows that, over the past decade, the nation has seen an average of 38 tornadoes in January, ranging from 84 in 2008 to four in 2014.

AP

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