BEAUREGARD, Alabama (AP) — Alabama’s governor walked a country road lined with shattered mobile homes on Wednesday as the search for victims of a monstrous tornado ended and residents salvaged what they could from the rubble and planned funerals for the 23 dead.
“Y’all, it’s horrendous, absolutely horrendous,” Governor Kay Ivey said after touring some of the worst devastation in an area of Lee County where “nothing’s left standing, everything’s in shreds”.
Ivey signed a disaster assistance agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and ordered state flags flown at half-staff until sunset on Sunday.
As Ivey surveyed the damage, residents picked through mounds of splintered lumber, twisted metal and broken glass that had once been their homes.
Brooke Waldrop searched for the beloved motorcycle vest of her late stepfather, Marshall Grimes, who had belonged to a motorcycle club.
Grimes was among three people killed in the tornado-flattened home. Waldrop said her 11-year-old sister Kayla was the only person inside who lived.
Waldrop said someone found the vest and brought it to the funeral home on Wednesday night. She hopes to put it in a shadow box and give it to her sister as a memento.
“For her to be the sole survivor of this one house is going to be hard for her,” Waldrop said.
The huge EF4 tornado struck the rural community of Beauregard on Sunday afternoon, blasting an area nearly a mile wide with 270kph winds.
The death toll stood at 23 as officials announced on Wednesday that the search for victims had ended after two full days. Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said the final seven people on officials’ list of the missing had been accounted for and were alive.
“We are still in standby mode on the outside chance they find somebody else, which is not likely,” County Coroner Bill Harris told a news conference.
The dead included four children and a couple in their 80s. Ten victims belonged to a single extended family. Two funerals were held yesterday, with many more to follow soon after.
Kathy Pardrige wore a brace to keep her broken neck stabilised as she looked for anything salvageable in the ruins of her home. Pardrige, her family and their two dogs and pet rabbit all survived, but nearly everything they owned was destroyed.
They were at home when they heard the tornado alert on their phones, she said. A few minutes later, the house began to shake.
“My husband had grabbed me and we flew about six to eight metres before we landed on the ground,” she said.
Pope Francis sent condolences on Wednesday to tornado victims in a telegram to the bishop of Mobile, Alabama, the Most Reverend Thomas Rodi. The pope said he was saddened to learn of the “tragic loss of life and injuries”.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said he will survey the damage today.
The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 34 tornadoes hit Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday.
The twister that smashed Beauregard was the deadliest Untied States (US) tornado in nearly six years. The weather service said it remained on the ground for an hour and 16 minutes, crossing the Chattahoochee River into western Georgia along a path stretching roughly 112 kilometres. That meant the tornado travelled at an average speed of nearly 90kph.
And though it lost some intensity entering Georgia, the twister injured seven people in the neighbouring state.
“Typically, in the Southern plains of the US in what they call the traditional tornado alley, that would be a fast forward speed,” said Chris Darden, meteorologist in charge of the weather service’s Birmingham office.
Twisters in states like Oklahoma and Kansas can travel as slow as 16 or 24kph, he noted.
“Our storms tend to move faster,” Darden said of the Southeast tornadoes.
Alabama and several other Southern states could soon be under threat of more severe storms — including the risk of some tornadoes — with a new system expected to reach the South this weekend, forecasters said.
A vast part of the region from Texas to Georgia will be under threat of severe weather tomorrow, the national Storm Prediction Center warned. The at-risk area is home to 41 million people and includes major cities such as Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta.
The Beauregard tornado was the deadliest to hit the US since May 2013, when an EF5 twister killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.