State mortuary team, led by Cullman’s Doug Williams, assisting in Lee County

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A State Mortuary Operations Response Team (SMORT) vehicle is seen in Lee County, Alabama on Monday, March 4, 2019. (Jeremy L. Kilpatrick)

LEE COUNTY, Ala. – The State Mortuary Operations Response Team (SMORT), led by SMORT Commander and Cullman County native Doug Williams, is in Lee County assisting local authorities with the identification of victims from Sunday’s deadly tornadoes. SMORT was activated Sunday night.

Authorities in Lee County put the death toll at 23, with dozens more injured. Homes and buildings were destroyed and damaged by the tornado there, which the National Weather Service said Monday was an EF-4. Chris Darden with the National Weather Service described the tornado that tore through Lee County as a “monster,” with 170 mph winds and a storm track almost 1 mile wide and at least 24 miles long.

Said Williams, “We’re down here with the state mortuary team, made up of folks from all across the state. We have state equipment, vehicles. Our equipment is put together to help recover bodies from things like this and to take them in and identify them and get them to the proper family members for burial. That’s what we’re doing,” said Williams. “This time we weren’t involved in recovery. They were handling that with local fire departments and things like that. They’re still out cutting trees and going through neighborhoods, but they feel pretty much like they’ve found everybody.”

Williams said his team has been deployed several times.

“The last big one was in 2011, when we had all of those folks across the state.”

Williams’ team in Lee County is made up of 12 people, including Cullman County Coroner Jeremy L. Kilpatrick.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), SMORT is "an organized group of volunteers located throughout the state who will respond to assist the local coroner (at their request) during mass fatality events. Members of SMORT include licensed funeral directors, embalmers, coroners and emergency management personnel."

The organization is composed entirely of volunteers, all of whom are experts in some related field.  Though they work in fields related to mortuary sciences, they take time off from work and give up personal leave to train for and respond to mass fatality events.

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