Lee County, after the storm

Mar 4, 2019

BEAUREGARD, AL-- The rescue and recovery efforts are just getting underway in Lee County in east Alabama after a deadly tornado. Disaster officials have said the EF-4 tornado killed at least 23 people. The storm was estimated to be a half mile wide and tore a path of destruction a mile long.

APR’s Pat Duggins sat down with one woman from the community of Beauregard who made it out alive.

“Oh boy, the wind was so high and I heard like a little roar and heard those trees popping," said Peggy Hutcheson of Beauregard.

We met her at the Red Cross Shelter at Providence Baptist Church in Opeleika. Hutcheson came in for a cup of coffee and a chance to catch her breath. She lost her home in Beauregard during Sunday’s tornado. It was the sound of the trees she remembers most.

“I don’t know, little a pin, pop, pop, pop, like firecrackers," she recalled, "and that wind was so strong. I thought that was it.”

It wasn't just the sounds Hutcheson remembers. The storm was followed by the smell of pine and earth that was torn up by the winds. Hutcheson said Sunday was also proof that no one’s luck lasts forever.

“Three years ago one came through and missed us. This time we're 3, 4 foot from it,” she said.

The sounds and smells of a tornado like the one that hit Beauregard and Lee County are nothing new to residents of Tuscaloosa like Steve Miller. He was the first person Alabama Public Radio spoke with following the tornado that tore through town on April 27, 2011.

“The sound was the loudest thing I ever heard. It was so loud, I couldn’t heard it anymore,” Miller said.

And then there was human toll. Back in 2011, the storm killed over 50 people. A man who lived near Miller found one of the victims.

“My neighbor who lived two houses went into his backyard and found a young lady wrapped around one of his trees,” Miller recalled. “She had passed away.”

It was the needs of those who survived Sunday’s tornado in Lee County that were the focus at Providence Baptist Church. A stream of cars and trucks pulled into the parking lot to drop off food, water, clothing, diapers and other supplies.

Tanya Knight was in her car when the tornado hit.

“Wind was blowing both directions. It got really dark really quick,” Knight said. “That’s when I decided to go in and not sit in the parking lot anymore, because I knew things were changing from that point.”

And for Knight, Sunday wasn’t the end of it. She’s the social media coordinator for Providence Baptist Church’s disaster relief effort. That means Knight has to make sure all the donated food and clothing is organized and gets handed out to victims of the storm.

“We’re overflowing with food. They’re just here what doing what they can,” she said. “The community’s come through in an amazing way to get us through this.”

The work Knight and her volunteers are doing will help in the short term. But Miller’s experience in Tuscaloosa shows how long getting over a storm can take. In 2016, 5 years after a tornado destroyed his house, Miller said he still wasn’t over it.

“The sound of wind, even though our house is new, it blasts because there are no trees. It really gets on my nerves big time,” Miller said. “And we’ve had to go into the basement a couple of times because of tornado warnings. It scares the pieces out of us now.”

And residents of Lee County feel the same way. The impact of Sunday’s twister may be something that never goes away.