Alabama tornadoes: Seven family members among 23 killed

Media captionAerials show Alabama tornado destruction

Seven members of one family were among the 23 victims identified after an outbreak of tornadoes devastated the US state of Alabama, officials have said.

Every victim, including four children, was found close to their homes, rescue crews say.

The victims range in age from six to 89, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris told a news conference.

Up to eight people remain missing, officials say, and there are fears the death toll could rise.

“We believe that every victim was in the residence when it hit. They all ended up, with the exception of two, outside the residence,” Mr Harris told reporters, adding that their homes “aren’t there”.

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Taylor Thornton was listed among the dead

“They’re not there.”

He added that one survivor lost seven members of his family, and warned that he may be facing “financial issues” because of multiple funeral costs.

“They’re going to have seven funerals that they have to finance somehow,” he said, adding that donors have been reaching out to help the family with the expenses.

The tornadoes struck eastern Alabama on Sunday, levelling homes and carving a path of at least a half mile (0.8km) wide in some parts of the state.

‘Nature at its worst’

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About 50 structures have been reduced to rubble

Chris Buckler, BBC News, in Beauregard

On the edge of where the tornado struck, there is the constant buzzing of chainsaws as they try to clear up the hundreds of fallen trees.

But up in the Beauregard neighbourhood which was directly in its path, there is silence. Where once there were homes there is now what can only be described as an emptiness. All of the buildings have been levelled and from the road it’s difficult to see that a community was once even here.

There’s no doubt that some of the most striking images are the cars, which have been smashed, overturned and in one case actually wrapped around a tree.

When you wander through what was a garden and look through the flattened remains, you discover the remnants of people’s lives. Single shoes, an iron and what looks like an old schoolbag.

There are a few figures wandering around amid all of the devastation looking numb and bewildered. At times they seem to be struggling to remember what was once here on this flattened landscape.

Frederick Franklin was standing by the debris of one house, trying to piece together where the rooms once stood from the foundations of the building.

“It was my brother’s fiancé’s place,” he told me. “She and one of her brothers were killed in it. You can’t describe it. This is nature at its worst.”

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Temperatures dropped below freezing on Tuesday as volunteer crews sorted through debris, looking for survivors and bodies.

On Monday, weather officials upgraded the fatal twister that hit Lee County to EF-4 with wind speeds of 170 mph (275km/h).

Almost 50 people were injured and numerous homes and businesses were reduced to rubble as multiple tornadoes touched down in south-east Alabama and Georgia.

During Tuesday’s briefing, an official with the National Weather Service said the deadliest tornado had travelled for about 70 miles, and another nearby travelled for 29 miles.

  • Children among Alabama tornado victims

Bags of ice and medications are being made available to residents, who have been told they should start bringing debris out to the street for it to be removed by county rubbish crews.

Some residents who narrowly survived the onslaught have travelled to shelters to lend a hand and donate goods.

“I had a friend who lost his life, and just my heart spoke,” Stephanie Griffith tearfully told WVTM-TV as she dropped off supplies at a shelter in Lee County.

“So I went through my home this morning I got things that I’m not going to use and I know they’ll be needed here.”

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Members of the Auburn University football team, the Tigers, were on hand on Monday to help distribute food and water at emergency shelters.

Alabama State Trooper Robert Burroughs is in the intensive care unit of a local hospital in a “serious condition”, police said.

He and his wife Sandi lost their home in Sunday’s storm.

“Troopers have a strong sense of camaraderie and will surround the Burroughs family at this time and offer support both short and long term,” said Cpl Jess Thornton.

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President Donald Trump plans to visit the region on Friday.

“It’s been a tragic situation, but a lot of good work is being done,” he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

How did people survive?

Evony Wilson, 44, received a weather alert for the tornado that then tore through her mother’s home at about 14:00 local time on Sunday. She told her mother and son to run to the bathroom, where all three generations piled on the bathroom floor to weigh each other down.”That’s when everything started shaking. It was so strong,” Mrs Wilson told BBC News. “I held my son’s hand as he was yelling ‘I don’t want to die!’ My mom just kept reminding us to pray.”

She said that after the winds lifted, her home was “no longer recognisable” and was “in shreds”.

Her elderly mother, who requires an oxygen tank, suffered a broken hip. Mrs Wilson fractured her ankle, but was grateful to have escaped.

Other residents hid in bathtubs in homes without basements, sometime with mattresses pulled over them.

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“We knew we were flying because it picked the house up,” Julie Morrison told the Associated Press (AP), adding that they thought they had survived because of the fibre-glass that their home is made from.

Greg Molinari told that he and his wife would have died if not for a text message from their daughter-in-law.

“She said get in the bathroom and put pots on your head. And we did put big cooking pots over our head. Saved our lives,” said Mr Molinari.

“The ceiling crashed in on us.”

Who were the victims?

Carol Dean told the AP that the body of her husband David Dean, 53, was found by their son on a nearby embankment after the storm had passed.

“He was done and gone before we got to him,” she said on Monday. “My life is gone. He was the reason I lived, the reason that I got up.”

Seven members of the same extended family connected by marriage – including members of the Stenson, Tate and Robinson families – died in the storm.

Four children, ages 6, 8, 9 and 10, were also listed among the dead.