Read this first: Selfless chaser goes above and beyond in AL Tornado Outbreak
We’re not going to say anything, we’re going to turn it over to Rich Lewis to give us his update – which he posted on his Facebook wall.
“Just want to give everyone an update. I just got back home to Birmingham about 30 min ago. I can’t find the words to describe how I am feeling emotionally. I’m exhausted and have so much on my mind. 14 hours of SAR operations has taken its toll on me. The damage I witnessed in Beauregard AL was horrific.
The only damage I’ve seen that was worse was Joplin. The entire area looked like a war zone. Trees were debarked as if you’d peel a banana. Homes completely wiped from their foundations. County Rd 39 and Cave Mill Road, the epi-centre of ground zero had pavement scoured away which was a big factor in the EF-4 rating.
At 6 am we still had 20 people missing and many still trapped under rubble. Sadly two more casualties were uncovered bringing the fatality total to 24. A specialized team with cadaver dogs was present, and seeing that hit me hard in the pit of my stomach. They aren’t there for search and rescue.
They are there prepared for recovery. It doesn’t get any more sobering than that. Overnight SAR concentrated heavily on the wooded areas surrounding the heaviest damage path. One crew found a gentleman displaced 1/4 mile away from his home. The crew I was with found multiple survivors buried under mounds of tree debris.
I talked to numerous survivors that have lost their entire family. One young man lost both his parents, and both sets of Grandparents to this tornado. Children were amount the casualties, the youngest a 6 year old boy, an 8 year old little girl, and a 10 year old girl who will never come home from a sleepover at a friend’s house.
It was about as bad as it can get. I cried almost the whole way home this afternoon.
I believe casualties could have been lessened significantly if people had taken the warnings more serious. The common theme I heard throughout today was we didn’t see a tornado, we didn’t know one was on the ground. Some of the worst killers hide shrouded in rain. Just because you don’t see a tornado, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Lead time was 9 minutes from the moment the tornado touched down to the epi-centre of ground zero in the heaviest damage zone. However the first reports of this storm going tornadic happened just east of Montgomery and 1:30 and was tornado warned shortly thereafter.
It is vital to be weather aware on days such as yesterday. Have a ready action plan in place. And if you know you’re in the path of a tornadic storm, that’s the time to start taking precautions. Don’t wait until you hear sirens, don’t wait until you see the tornado, because it’s too late.
Yesterday’s tornado was so heavily rain-wrapped very few got a glimpse of the monster lurking behind the walls of precip anyways. Yesterday and into the overnight will stay with me for the rest of my life. This isn’t my first tornado disaster or SAR, but this one was definitely different.
It hit me harder as it’s the first time I connected with the victims on a deep emotional level. I want to take this moment to thank everyone for their kind messages, words of encouragement, gratitude, and the all the posts. I was overwhelmed when I saw the amount of support I had when I got home. Today was very rough, but each and every one of you reminded me why it’s important to give back. Thank you.”
Again, we can’t thank you enough for what you did Rich.
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