(CN) – As search teams comb a mile-long swath of land in southeast Alabama where a tornado wrought catastrophic destruction Sunday, the local sheriff said he expects the death toll to rise throughout the day.
First responders have found 23 dead so far, the youngest age 6. Medical examiners from across the state are coming in to help identify the bodies.
“It’s going to be a tough day,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said. “It’s going to be a tough several days I imagine.”
Jones, wearing a tan baseball cap and wire glasses, said K-9 teams from Alabama and Georgia and helicopters are being brought in to aid in the search, which may widen throughout the day. Hundreds of law enforcement officers from the area have already responded to help.
“It looks almost as if someone took a giant knife and just scraped the ground,” Jones told reporters at a news conference Monday morning. “There are slabs where homes formerly stood. There is debris everywhere. Trees are snapped. Whole forested areas are…the trees are just snapped and lying on the ground.”
Jones described Beauregard as a tight-knit community. The unincorporated, rural town of roughly 10,000 people that sits about 60 miles east of the state capital of Montgomery was “a growing area over the last several years,” he said.
Displaced families are gathering at Providence Baptist Church, where the Red Cross is set up.
In a Facebook post, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said it had enough heavy equipment and resources in the area affected by the tornado, although donations are still being accepted at two locations.
The tornado was part of a severe storm system that caused catastrophic damage and unleashed other tornadoes around the Southeast.
Jones said the tornado went straight down a country road in Beauregard and the path of destruction was at least a half-mile wide and a mile long.
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday that an F3 tornado had touched down. Those storms usually bring wind speeds between 158 and 206 mph.
Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told The Associated Press he had to call in help from the state, because there were more bodies than his four-person office can handle.