After tornadoes in South destroy homes “in the blink of an eye,” stories of survival emerge

Posted at 7:22 AM, Mar 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-04 09:22:19-05

At least 23 people are dead in Lee County, Alabama, in the deadliest tornado since Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013.

The tornado was at least a half-mile wide when it touched down in Lee County. It tore through everything in its path – reducing homes and businesses to rubble.

People had 20 minutes warning to find shelter before the massive tornado devastated the area, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

“Houses completely destroyed, homes just basically just slabs left where there once stood a home,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones described. “The contents of a residence we know for a fact were located over 1,000 yards away.”

The National Weather Service says the tornado was at least an EF3 with winds between 136 and 165 mph.

“We’re talking several miles that it traveled on the ground. The damage is significant. I would put it in the category of catastrophic,” Jones said.

Many of the victims of the storm lived in Beauregard, Alabama, including 6-year-old A.J. Hernandez Jr. On social media, his aunt called him “a precious little man.”

But there were also stories of survival. Cameras caught an emotional moment as a grandmother was reunited with her granddaughter.

In nearby Smiths Station, popular bar Buck Wild Saloon was gutted to the studs. The owner was sitting in his truck just feet away.

“I seen the trash swirling in the air across the field over there. Then I said, ‘Oh, no, this ain’t good,'” David McBride said.

Across the street, Charlie Patel was inside as his gas station was torn to pieces.

“I’m on the counter, and 10 seconds, the tornado come and everything is gone, everything [is] destroyed,” Patel said.

Alabama wasn’t the only state to see some serious storms. There were more than a dozen reports of tornadoes in Georgia. Drone video out of Talbotton showed homes reduced to piles of wood and cars thrown around like toys. Folks in nearby Ellerslie said everything was gone before they even knew what happened.

“Everything that’s built for 19 years, gone. In the blink of an eye,” Brittny Gordy said.

In Alabama, the death toll could very well still rise as crews dig through the wreckage. In 2018, only 10 people in the entire U.S. were killed by tornadoes. That means more than twice as many people were killed in Sunday’s disaster in Alabama than all of last year.