The Latest: Chaplain helps community grieve after tornado

BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — The Latest on the impact of a tornado in Alabama and Georgia (all times local):

11:15 a.m.

The sound of chain saws and heavy equipment is in the air in Beauregard, Alabama, which got the worst of the tornadoes sweeping across the Southeast this weekend.

Church chaplain Ike Mathews is checking on emergency workers and members of his congregation as he walks a road lined with broken trees and pieces of homes. Mathews says the people who have found the bodies of some of the 23 victims are hurting, and the whole community is torn up.

He says many who living in the area are senior citizens who retired from textile mills or an factory nearby, and were hoping to leave their homes to their grandchildren. Now those properties are destroyed.

10:30 a.m.

An Alabama coroner says all 23 people found dead after a tornado have been identified and their bodies have been released to funeral homes. He said their ages range from 6 to 93, and that one family alone lost seven people.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris says other coroners and funeral homes from around the state are pitching in to help prepare the victims for funerals.

Sheriff Jay Jones says “a lot of heavy equipment is coming in to pick up big portions of debris” in specific pockets of Beauregard where the search for more victims is now focused.

He says those areas are narrowed down from a broad spectrum to certain areas where there may be people or animals, and that they hope to transition from search-and-rescue to recovery later Tuesday. He said the number of missing people has narrowed from dozens to just “seven or eight.”

9:50 a.m.

Government teams surveying storm damage across the Southeast have confirmed that at least 18 tornadoes struck in a deadly weekend outbreak.

The National Weather Service says storm systems crossing the region Sunday spun off tornadoes in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina alone.

The most powerful twister was an EF4 tornado packing 170 mph (274 kph) winds that’s been blamed for at least 23 deaths in Lee County, Alabama. The weather service says that tornado crossed into western Georgia and inflicted more damage.

The number of confirmed tornadoes could increase. Survey teams are still assessing storm damage in some areas.

9:20 a.m.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones says the search for tornado victims is still active, with the crews now looking at a smaller area and specific piles of wreckage.

The sheriff said Tuesday that the list of unaccounted people is down to seven or eight.

He says law enforcement teams are working the area by foot with the help of cadaver-sniffing dogs and also searching by air. In one hard-hit area, a small excavator turned over pieces of splintered homes and trees, which firefighters then searched for signs of potential victims.

Jones says authorities are contacting family and friends of the missing to confirm their status, since some of those unaccounted-for may have checked in but not with authorities.

7:50 a.m.

Forecasters say 90 people were injured in the tornado that also killed at least 23 people in the small community of Beauregard, Alabama.

The number of injured comes in a Tuesday report from the National Weather Service, forecasters say the tornado’s damage path was nine-tenths of a mile (1.4 kilometers) wide and kept gaining intensity before slamming into Beauregard, Alabama.

Survey crews from the weather service documented how the deadly twister shredded manufactured homes, emptying their contents into the woods.

Forecasters said in the report that the tornado was strong enough to bend the frame of a car around what remained of a large tree. Based on the damage, they’ve determined that it was EF-4 tornado with 170 mph (274 kph) winds.

12:40 a.m.

Residents of a small Alabama community hit by a powerful tornado are mourning the deaths of 23 people as they pick through shattered homes for salvageable belongings and crews search for more victims.

Carol Dean found her wedding dress Monday among the wreckage of her mobile home in Beauregard. But the storm took her husband. She said: “My life is gone.”

Dean said her spouse, 53-year-old David Wayne Dean, was killed Sunday when the twister struck their home while she was at work. She said he had been texting a friend to beware of the approaching storm.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones says crews with dogs and drones have combed over the hardest-hit areas, but there’s more searching to be done.

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