Prayers Up: 23 dead, dozens missing in tornado-blasted Alabama community

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — Rescue crews searched for victims Monday amid the splintered lumber and twisted metal where homes once stood, after the deadliest U.S. tornado in nearly six years ripped through a rural Alabama community. At least 23 people were killed, some of them children.

Dozens remained missing in Lee County nearly a day later, according to the sheriff, who said that crews had combed the hardest-hit areas but that the search was far from over.

“I’m not going to be surprised if we don’t come up with some more deceased. Hopefully we won’t,” Coroner Bill Harris said.

Harris said the dead included almost entire families and at least three children, ages 6, 9 and 10.

The National Weather Service said one and possibly two tornadoes struck the area Sunday afternoon, with a powerful EF-4 twister with winds estimated at 170 mph (274 kph) blamed for most of the destruction.

The bigger tornado carved a path nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) wide and 24 miles (39 kilometers) long, stretching toward Georgia, said Chris Darden, the agency’s chief meteorologist in Birmingham.

The killer winds left shredded metal dangling from the trees and obliterated homes, leaving little more than concrete slabs.

Darden said the “monster tornado” was the single deadliest twister in the U.S. since May 2013, when an EF-5 killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.

“It looks like someone almost just took a giant knife and scraped the ground,” Sheriff Jay Jones said.

With daybreak, volunteers used chain saws to clear paths for emergency workers, while at the R&D Grocery, people asked each other if they were OK.

“I’m still thanking God I’m among the living,” said John Jones, who has lived most of his life in Beauregard, an unincorporated community of roughly 10,000 people about 60 miles east of Montgomery near the Georgia state line.

The twister 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,” said Jonathan Clardy, who huddled with his family inside their Beauregard trailer as the tornado ripped the roof off. “It’s a blessing from God that me and my young’ns are alive.”