BEAUREGARD, Ala. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Officials have released the names of the victims killed in the devastating tornado that ripped through Beauregard, Alabama on Sunday.
At a news conference on Tuesday, the 23 people killed in the nation's deadliest tornado in nearly six years came into focus when the coroner finished identifying them and released their names.
"Just keep those families in your prayers," Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said, two days after the disaster. "It's a tragic situation."
The victims included:
- Armondo (AJ) Hernandez, 6
- Charlotte Ann Miller, 59
- David Dean, 53
- Emmanuiel Jones, 53
- Eric Stenson, 38
- Felicia Woodall, 22
- Florel Tate Stenson, 63
- Henry Lewis Stenson, 65
- Irma Gomez-Moran, 41
- James Henry Tate, 86
- Jimmy Lee Jones, 89
- Jonathan Marquez Bowen, 9
- Maggie Delight Robinson, 57
- Mamie Roberts Koon, 68
- Marshall Lynn Grimes, 59
- Mary Louise Jones, 83
- Mykala Waldon, 8
- Raymond Robinson Jr., 63
- Ryan Pence, 22
- Sheila Creech, 59
- Taylor Thornton, 10
- Tresia Robinson, 62
- Vicki Braswell, 69
The search for victims in and around the devastated rural community of Beauregard continued on Tuesday, with crews using heavy equipment to lift large chunks of wreckage. But Sheriff Jay Jones said the list of missing people had shrunk from dozens to just seven or eight.
"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."
Four children were killed, ages 6, 8, 9 and 10.
The dead also included 53-year-old David Wayne Dean, whose body was found in a neighbor's yard after the twister demolished his mobile home Sunday afternoon. He was known as "Roaddog" for his love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
"Our son found him," his widow, Carol Dean, said between sobs. "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 tornado passed, Mrs. Dean rushed home from work at Walmart and pushed past sheriff's deputies to be with her husband one last time. Picking through the ruins 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 was an EF4 packing winds estimated at 170 mph (274 kph) and chewed a path of destruction up to nine-tenths of a mile (1.4 kilometers) wide in Alabama for nearly 27 miles (43 kilometers), the National Weather Service said. Ninety people were injured.
Bishop James Fears is one of the many people who live in Beauregard, Alabama, struggling to make sense of what happened Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve never seen that before in our lives, not to this degree," Fears told FOX 5’s Portia Bruner Everybody's trying to piece together their minds why in our area because this isn't normal for us.”
Around Beauregard, an unincorporated area of roughly 10,000 people near the Georgia state line, mobile homes tucked among tall pine trees were swept from their bases and smashed into unrecognizable piles of rubble. Toys, clothes, insulation, water heaters and pieces of metal were scattered across the hillsides where the pines were snapped in half.
What's left of some homes is scattered across a debris field that stretches for miles, but the loss of life is much harder to comprehend.
Kim Young can't forget the sound of the tornado turning towards her home as her family hid in their storm shelter.
“You could hear the wind blowing real loud and real hard. I was thinking, Oh Lord, here it comes,” she said. “Everyone's been head pretty hard so we're just trying to encourage as much as we can."
Opelika Police Captain Bobby Kilgore says there are pockets of destruction all across the county, but he's encouraged by how many folks are pitching in to help rebuild this community.
“Lee County, Alabama has absolutely banded together. They’ve become one team, one fight. Everybody is pitching in, everybody’s contributing, everybody’s helping,” Kilgore said.
It was the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. since May 2013, when an EF5 twister killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.
Government teams surveying storm damage confirmed Tuesday that at least 18 tornadoes struck on Sunday in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina alone.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.