BEAUREGARD, Ala. — Lee County authorities on Tuesday morning will release the names of the 23 people killed when a tornado tore through the rural area Sunday shredding homes, trees and power lines.
County coroner Bill Harris on Monday night said he expected the death toll to be higher, based on the devastation. The twister packing 170-mph winds cut a mile-long swath through the area.
“I can’t believe it,” Harris said Monday. “I thought we’d see more.”
The victims ranged in age from a nine-year-old boy who died at a hospital from his injuries, to a woman in her 90s who died near her home. The storm also killed an entire family of three and a family of four. Most of the victims suffered extensive blunt-force trauma, Harris said, and many were sucked out of their homes.
Sunday’s tornado was the deadliest twister since 2013, when 25 people were killed in Oklahoma.
About 10,000 people live in the Beauregard community, which is about 60 miles east of Montgomery and has a few small stores, two schools and a volunteer fire department along the main highway.
“Everybody in Beauregard is a real close-knit family,” said Jonathan Clardy, who huddled with his family inside their trailer as the tornado ripped the roof off. “Everybody knows everybody around here. Everybody is heartbroken.”
Steve Whatley’s wife, daughter and mother-in-law, Vicki Braswell, hunkered under a mattress in their mobile home as the tornado sucked their home into the air. Whatley said his mother-in-law died when the mobile home collapsed.
“We heard it coming but by the time we knew what it was, it hit us. That’s when all hell broke loose,” said Whatley, 36. “It picked us up and dumped us back down 50 feet away.” Watley’s wife was still hospitalized Monday with multiple injuries.
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Of the injured, Harris said two people remained in intensive care. The coroner called in help from the state to assist his staff of four with body recovery, identification and cause of death.
He then sat with the families for about four hours on Monday, formalizing IDs and explaining how their loved ones died.
“I thought I could handle this but I found out right quick it was beyond my scope,” Harris, 64, said Monday night as a stream of hearses and minivans collected the bodies for transport to funeral homes.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Joseph Castle,The Montgomery Advertiser