BEAUREGARD, AL – At least 23 people, including children, are dead and several others are injured after a tornado ripped through a rural Alabama community Sunday.
“I’m still thanking God I’m among the living,” John Jones, who has lived most of his life in Beauregard, said.
The sheriff confirmed children are among the dead, but he did not know how many. He also said the death toll may rise as the search continues amid houses reduced to their concrete slabs.
Rescuers are searching for victims Monday in homes completely ripped off their foundations, shredded metal dangling from trees and dead animals lying in the open.
The twister traveled straight down a county road, leaving a trail of destruction at least half a mile wide and a mile long.
The catastrophic storm forced the Lee County coroner’s office to call in help from the state because there were more bodies than the four-person office could handle.
Volunteers used chain saws to clear paths for emergency workers, and at the R&D Grocery, people were constantly asking each other if they were OK.
The tornado, with winds believed to be around 160 mph or higher, was part of a powerful storm system that slashed its way across the deep south, spawning numerous tornado warnings in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.
“All we could do is just hold on for life and pray. It’s a blessing from God that me and my young’ns are alive,” said Jonathan Clardy, who huddled with his family inside their trailer as the tornado ripped the roof off.
Clardy added, “Everybody in Beauregard is a real close-knit family. Everybody knows everybody around here. Everybody is heartbroken.”
A mobile home crushed by two trees marked the end of the path of destruction.
The 23 confirmed deaths so far mean there are already more tornado-related fatalities in 2019 than all of last year.
The National Weather Service said the tornado was rated an F4, which means wind speeds estimated at 170 mph.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)