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Tornado leaves behind trail of destruction

Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

BEAUREGARD, Ala. -- Julie Morrison and her husband, Eric Sward, had just finished their Sunday lunch of steak, biscuits and gravy and were watching "Law & Order" when a friend texted urging them to take cover. Then an emergency alert blasted from Eric's phone.

Tornado.

The wind was already howling, so the couple dashed to the guest bathroom without stopping to put on shoes or gather any belongings.

Julie lay down in the bathtub. Eric squeezed in on top. Seconds later, they found themselves clinging to the tub as the tornado lifted their 2,100-square-foot home and tossed it into the woods.

The powerful tornado -- a category EF4 -- cut a path about a mile wide and at least 24 miles long in this pocket of rural southeast Alabama. With wind speeds of 170 mph, it snapped trees and shredded homes, filling yards and pastures with twisted metal, scraps of wood and pink insulation.

When it was done, at least 23 people were dead, include three children ages 6, 9 and 10.

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"It looks like someone almost just took a giant knife and scraped the ground," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said during a news conference Monday.

"A monster tornado," said Chris Darden, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service's office in Birmingham, noting it was the nation's deadliest tornado since 2013, when an EF5 killed 24 people and injured more than 200 in Moore, Okla.

"It's been a long, long night," Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said Monday afternoon. "These families, some of them have lost just about the entire family.

"I'm not going to be surprised if we don't come up with some more deceased," he said. "Hopefully we won't."

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