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Communities pull together after March 3 tornadoes

Aerial photo shows some of the damage from the March 3 tornado that devastated the Beauregard community in Lee County. Photo by Billy Pope for the Alabama Governor’s Office

Severe weather dealt a heavy blow to areas across the Southeast on Sunday, March 3, including several co-op areas in Alabama. The entire state mourned the deaths of the 23 people – adults and children – who died in Lee County in the EF-4 tornado that touched down near the Beauregard community, south of Auburn and Opelika.

Ninety injuries were also reported; the tornado had winds of 170 mph and had a damage path of more than 26 miles, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service.

There were more tornado deaths in that one day than have occurred nationwide in the past two years, according to al.com.

The area is part of Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative’s service territory, in the LaFayette South District. The co-op also reported some damage near Lake Harding, just north of Smiths Station.

Ground view showing some of the damage from the March 3 tornado that devastated the Beauregard community in Lee County. Photo by Billy Pope for the Alabama Governor’s Office

After the storms, Central Alabama EC sent 16 men, and Pea River EC sent 13 to help restore power to the TREC areas devastated by the tornadoes. At the height of the storm, the co-op reported more than 2,000 outages; crews had restored power substantially by Tuesday night, and by Wednesday to all structures that could receive power.

No co-op employees were directly impacted by the storm, but many knew of people in their communities who lost their homes, and in some cases loved ones. 

As with any severe weather disaster, the co-op employees went right to work after reports of the tornadoes started coming in. Office workers came to the LaFayette office, and crews went to the storm-ravaged areas.

A line crew from Pea River EC works to restore power to the Smiths Station area after the tornado of March 3. Photo by Buster Bishop

Louie Ward, general manager of Tallapoosa River EC, accompanied his crews to the areas. The devastation he saw defied explanation.

“All I know to tell you, it looked like a bomb went off,” Ward says. “I’ve seen tornado damage quite a few times in life. This was about as bad as I had seen anywhere.”

There has been an outpouring of support, Ward says, from people near and far.

“It was very heartwarming to see how the community pulled together,” Ward says.

“There was a monumental effort made hours immediately following the tornadoes, and people were boots on the ground providing assistance within hours. I think that speaks to the community and the awareness of how much people needed help.”

President Donald Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Lee County on March 5, which triggers the release of federal funds to help people and communities recover from the severe weather. Trump visited Lee County on March 8 to survey the damage and meet with local leaders and victims of the storm.