Krystal Stenson-Garrett, left, mourns with her cousin, Montasha Preston, outside an Opelika funeral home Wednesday.

A tornado killed 23 people in this Alabama town. Its residents say it could have been worse

Updated 1603 GMT (0003 HKT) March 8, 2019

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Beauregard, Alabama (CNN)Trying to figure out what happened over the phone was torture.

A murderous EF-4 tornado had leveled her parents' neighborhood in this rural swath of southeast Alabama. Krystal Stenson-Garrett -- two hours north at her kitchen table in Birmingham -- was shaking.
She was on the phone with her cousin, Montasha Preston, who was in Beauregard, frantically trying to reach their childhood homes, three doors down from each other.
Preston couldn't reach the neighborhood by car, so she got out and ran a half mile, hopping over downed trees and ducking under power lines.
Stenson-Garrett, 35, felt helpless. She pressed for answers, but Preston didn't have any yet. She would call back when she had more information.
Then the calls started coming.
    The first brought good news. Stenson-Garrett's nephews, Eric, 17, and Dillian, 14, had been found. The storm had yanked them from her parents' mobile home and tossed them across the street. They were hurt -- Eric badly -- but they were alive.
    Preston called back. They had found Stenson-Garrett's dad.
    "Thank God," she said.
    "No, not thank God, Krystal," Preston replied. "He didn't make it."
    Krystal Stenson-Garrett walks with her husband, Shaun, through the wreckage where her family's homes used to be.
    In the next call, Stenson-Garrett learned the twister had also taken her mother and only brother. In the final call, she was told her uncle was dead, too.
    Of the 23 people killed in the deadliest US tornado in almost six years, four were her kin.

    Rescue worker: 'It's all been put in a blender and blown for miles'

    Days after the tornado, residents in this neighborhood along Lee Road 39 are struggling to process the devastation around them. There are areas a mile wide where no structure survived.
    The tornado smashed homes into each other, combining th