The tornado that devastated rural parts of eastern Alabama left behind a deadly trail, compared by one official to a giant knife scraping the ground.
Early reports put the number of casualties at 23, but that figure could rise as rescuers search amid the destroyed homes for victims.
The town of Beauregard, an unincorporated community of about 10,000 in Lee County, took a major hit from the Sunday twister, whose winds were estimated at 170 mph.
“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.”
Identities of the victims are starting to emerge.
The Lee-Scott Academy, a Christian school in Auburn, Ala., reported on its Facebook page the passing of its fourth-grade student, saying Taylor “was welcomed into the arms of Jesus as the result of the severe weather event in Lee County yesterday.
“Our hearts at Lee-Scott Academy are broken this morning. Please pray for the Thornton family, our students, faculty, and staff during this difficult time.’’
The school has scheduled a community-wide prayer for Tuesday morning.
The posting mentions that a GoFundMe page has been established on behalf of Taylor’s family. The page, which had already surpassed its goal of $15,000 by raising more than $27,000 as of Monday evening, identifies the girl’s parents as Ashley and David Thornton of Auburn.
“Words don’t even come close to imagining the pain they are enduring,’’ it says on the page, which requests donations to cover funeral expenses and/or prayers for the family. “Taylor was an amazing example of a child of God. She brought so much joy to all that knew her. She was loved dearly and will forever be missed.
“Our hearts are mourning with you Ashley and David. You raised an amazing daughter that fulfilled her purpose on this earth and it now with her creator. This community loves you both, and baby McCrae so much and will continue to walk through this by your side.’’
Braswell, 69, was killed when the wall of a mobile home collapsed on her as she and her family sheltered at 2888 Lee Road, one of the hardest-hit areas.
Braswell, her daughter and granddaughter took shelter beneath a mattress in their double-wide mobile home while other family members huddled nearby.
“We heard it coming but by the time we knew what it was, it hit us. That’s when all hell broke loose,” said Braswell’s son-in-law, Steve Whatley, 36. “It picked us up and dumped us back down 50 feet away.”
Whatley’s wife was still hospitalized Monday with multiple injuries. Family friend Jordan Miller, 17, grabbed a chainsaw and cut the wall apart to free the trapped women.
Contributing: The Associated Press