Death toll rises in Alabama tornadoes’ wake
The 23 people — ranging in age from 6 to 89 — who lost their lives in a series of tornadoes that ripped though Alabama included seven members of an extended family, officials said Tuesday.
Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said all the victims have been identified and their bodies released for burial, with other coroners and funeral homes from around the state pitching in to lend a hand.
“Just keep those families in your prayers,” Harris said, two days after the disaster. “It’s a tragic situation.”
Most of the victims in the nation’s deadliest tornado in nearly six years suffered extensive blunt-force trauma, he said, and many were thrown or sucked out of their homes.
The seven related people who were killed were identified as Eric Jamal Stenson, 38, Florel Tate Stenson, 63, Henry Lewis Stenson, 65, James Henry Tate, 86, Maggie Delight Robinson, 57, Raymond Robinson Jr., 63, and Tresia Robinson, 62.
By Tuesday morning, authorities also reduced the number of missing people from dozens to about seven or eight, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.
He said “a lot of heavy equipment is coming in to pick up big portions of debris” in specific pockets of Beauregard where the search for more victims is now focused.
The search-and-rescue effort involving cadaver dogs and aircraft was expected to turn into a recovery later in the day.
“We are still conducting some searches, sifting through piles of debris where there may be people or animals,” said Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather. “We haven’t given up hope.”
The dead included David Wayne Dean, 53, whose body was found in a neighbor’s yard after the tornado destroyed his mobile home Sunday afternoon.
He was known as “Roaddog” for his love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
“Our son found him,” said his grief-stricken widow, Carol Dean. “He was done and gone before we got to him. My life is gone. He was the reason I lived, the reason that I got up.”
After the twister passed, she rushed home from her job at Walmart and pushed past sheriff’s deputies to be with husband one last time.
Sifting through the remains of their home, she found her wedding dress and a Father’s Day note to her husband that read, “Daddy, I love you to pieces.”
The tornado — a category EF4, the second-most violent — packed winds estimated at 170 mph and carved a path of destruction up to nine-tenths of a mile wide for almost 27 miles, the National Weather Service said.
Ninety people were injured, it said.
The twister was part of a powerful storm system that swept through the Deep South, spawning multiple tornado warnings.
Government teams surveying storm damage confirmed Tuesday that at least 18 twisters struck Sunday in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina alone.
Julie Morrison searched through the rubble of her home with the help of her daughter-in-law as they looked for keys and a wallet.
They managed to salvage the safe, her husband’s motorcycle boots and her Bible.
Morrison said she and her husband took shelter in their bathtub as the twister lifted their house off its foundation and blew it into the woods.
“We knew we were flying because it picked the house up,” Morrison said.
Jonathan Clardy huddled with his family inside their trailer as the tornado ripped their roof off.
“Everybody knows everybody around here. Everybody is heartbroken,” he told USA Today.
Steve Whatley’s wife, daughter and mother-in-law, Vicki Braswell, hid under a mattress in their mobile home as it was sucked into the air.
Whatley, 36, said his mother-in-law was killed when the home collapsed. His wife suffered multiple injuries.
“We heard it coming but by the time we knew what it was, it hit us. That’s when all hell broke loose,” Whatley told the new outlet. “It picked us up and dumped us back down 50 feet away.”
Meanwhile, meteorologists warned that the region could once again be hit by severe weather in the coming days.
“It’s going to be a strong system,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Tom Kines told USA Today. “There is no doubt there will be severe weather, maybe all the way up to Missouri. My gut feeling, however, is that it won’t be quite as bad (as Sunday’s storm). But I hate to play it down.”
With Post wires
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