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Monday, Sep 25, 2023 | Latest Print Edition

Sheriff: Death toll rises to 23 after 'catastrophic' tornadoes hit Lee County

<p>A photo shows a house severely damaged by a tornado in the Beauregard, Alabama, community southeast of Auburn. Photo via Scott Fillmer.</p>

A photo shows a house severely damaged by a tornado in the Beauregard, Alabama, community southeast of Auburn. Photo via Scott Fillmer.

At least 23 people are dead after two strong tornadoes ripped through southern Lee County Sunday, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones tells The Plainsman. The number could continue to rise as search crews continue comb the area Monday morning.

Among the dead are men, women and children.

"I hate to think about it, but I'm afraid we may see more just based on the destruction," Jones said. "I hope I'm wrong."

An apparent tornado hit areas from Beauregard to Smiths Station. Widespread damage has been reported in parts of Lee County south of Auburn and Opelika, though the most severe damage is in a mobile home community near Beauregard.

"It is so devastating," Jones said. "The devastation is just catastrophic."

Homes were leveled, cars flipped and trees snapped in half.

Jones said search and rescue operations were called off Sunday evening at about 10 p.m. because the wreckage is too dangerous to work in without sunlight. Search and rescue will resume at daybreak Monday morning.

State resources, law enforcement, fire and search resources from neighboring emergency agencies and others have been called in to help. Crews will continue combing the scene to look for more survivors and victims Monday morning.

"We're going to have some aircraft working with, several different resources in place," Jones said. "Our primary will be continuing our search and rescue and working with families who have been displaced, hopefully helping them recover."

Auburn and Auburn University were not impacted by the storm.

A spokesman for East Alabama Medical Center says dozens are being treated for injuries.

"We have received more than 40 patients as a result of the tornado this afternoon and expect more," spokesman John Atkinson said. "Some patients have also been sent to surrounding hospitals.  Conditions of the patients vary."

Lee County Schools will be closed Monday following the storm. That doesn't include Auburn City Schools.

The Lee County coroner said he has requested assistance from the state mortuary response team.

East Alabama Medical Center has seen an influx of patients injured in the storm.

"We opened our Incident Command Center around 2:45 p.m. CST and are prepared for patients arriving by ambulance and also by car," the hospital said on Facebook.

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More than 6,000 customers were without power Sunday afternoon at about 4 p.m., according to Alabama Power.

Chip Brownlee | Editor-in-chief

Chip Brownlee, senior in journalism and political science, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman.

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