BEAUREGARD, Ala. — Lee County authorities on Tuesday released the names of the 23 people killed in Sunday’s monstrous tornado while meteorologists warned that another blast of severe weather could roar through the region in coming days.
Rescue and recovery teams picked through the rubble of dozens of homes Tuesday as temperatures dipped in the 20s. The National Weather Service warned the chill could last into Thursday.
When the deep freeze finally lifts, the weekend could bring more dangerous storms. The weather service warned that severe thunderstorms with the potential for “tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail” will be possible across Central Alabama late Saturday into Sunday.
AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said a storm system moving into California in coming days will sweep into the Midwest later in the week before reaching the Gulf Coast. It was too early to determine how ferocious the storm will be by then, or exactly where it might hit hardest.
People in the region must remain vigilant, Kines said.
“It’s going to be a strong system,” he said. “There is no doubt there will be severe weather, maybe all the way up to Missouri. My gut feeling, however, is that it won’t be quite as bad (as Sunday’s storm). But I hate to play it down.”
The tornado that blasted through Lee County was one of 18 that struck Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina over the weekend. The tornado here packed 170-mph winds and cut a mile-long swath. County coroner Bill Harris said he expected the death toll to be higher, based on the devastation he witnessed.
The victims ranged in age from children ages 6, 9 and 10 to a woman in her 90s. 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. His wife was hospitalized with multiple injuries.
“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.”
Contributing: The Associated Press; Kristin Lam, USATODAY; Joseph Castle,The Montgomery Advertiser