Severe Weather

Michael Boutwell sifts through the debris while helping his stepdaughter retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

The nation’s deadliest tornado in six years roared through Lee County in east Alabama Sunday leaving 23 dead and 90 injured.

The cleanup, grieving and rebuilding will go on for months, years in some cases.

Destruction was so widespread, the Alabama Mortuary Response Team, headed by Cullman’s Doug Williams, was dispatched to Lee County to assist the local coroner, who was overwhelmed by the situation. Cullman County Coroner Jeremy Kilpatrick joined the team as well, along with the FBI as fingerprinting was needed in some cases to identify those who died.

Victims ranged from children to elderly, with the Associated Press reporting one family lost seven members to the powerful tornado. In fact, the National Weather Service reported that more than one tornado was involved in the region.

Alabama is all too familiar with deadly tornadoes. The 2011 outbreak leveled parts of Tuscaloosa, northwest Alabama, and almost throughout the state, including Cullman County. There were three confirmed tornadoes in Cullman County on April 27 that year, with the most destructive descending on downtown Cullman and through a neighborhood.

Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs paused at Monday’s City Council meeting to ask residents to remember the survivors in their prayers and to assist if they are able.

United Way of Cullman County has established a fund, too, for accepting donations that will go directly to Lee County’s residents who qualify for assistance.

The tornado Sunday was an EF4 with winds estimated at 170 mph (274 kph) and carved a path of destruction up to nine-tenths of a mile (1.4 kilometers) wide, scraping up the earth in a phenomenon known as “ground rowing,” the National Weather Service said. It traveled a remarkable 70 miles or so through Alabama and Georgia, where it caused more damage.

Government teams surveying storm damage confirmed that at least 20 tornadoes struck on Sunday in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

President Donald Trump, who has spoken to Gov. Kay Ivey about the destruction, plans to visit the area Friday and has pledged support for the survivors.

The risk of tornadoes never goes away in our state, but the time of year has arrived when they are the most likely to occur.

We encourage everyone to follow weather developments closely and check with your neighbors if you have a storm shelter. If you don’t have a shelter, take time to know where any available public shelters or safe places are located.

But most of all, at this time, it’s those in the storm-ravaged areas who need our prayers and assistance as they move beyond Sunday.

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