BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s governor walked a country road lined with shattered mobile homes Wednesday as the search for victims ended and residents commenced with trying to salvage belongings from piles of rubble while planning funerals for 23 dead.
“It’s awful. Devastating,” Gov. Kay Ivey said as she got a firsthand look at some of the worst devastation during a walking tour in Lee County. She said she hoped the disaster raised “awareness that when you hear the first alert, you need to take shelter.”
Around her, residents whose homes were destroyed and loved ones perished picked through mounds of splintered lumber, twisted metal and broken glass that had once been their homes.
“It’s not just an analogy — it’s their lives that are in pieces,” Brian Hastings, director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, told the governor.
Ivey also ordered flags in the state to be flown at half staff until sunset Sunday.
I’ve ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the 23 lives lost in the Lee County tornadoes. Flags should remain lowered until sunset on Sunday, March 10, 2019. pic.twitter.com/DXVoz3fKZQ
— Governor Kay Ivey (@GovernorKayIvey) March 6, 2019
The monstrous EF4 tornado struck the rural community of Beauregard on Sunday, blasting an area nearly a mile wide with 170 mph (273 kph) winds.
The death toll stood at 23 as officials announced 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, the youngest being a 6-year-old boy, and a couple in their 80s. And 10 victims belonged to a single extended family . At least two funerals were scheduled for Thursday, with many more to follow soon after.
Pope Francis sent condolences Wednesday to tornado victims in a telegram to the bishop of Mobile, Alabama, the Most Rev. 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 visit Friday to survey the damage.
The National Weather Service has confirmed at least 34 tornadoes hit Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday.
The monstrous twister that smashed Beauregard was the deadliest U.S. 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 70 miles (112 kilometers). The tornado destroyed homes in Georgia and injured seven people, but no one in that state died.
Meanwhile, Alabama and several other southern states will be under threat of more severe storms — including the risk of some tornadoes — with a new system that’s arriving in the South this weekend, forecasters said.
A vast part of the region from Texas to Georgia will be under threat of severe weather Saturday, the national Storm Prediction Center warned. The area at risk of storms 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 U.S. since May 2013, when an EF5 twister killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.