Wednesday 23 October 2019

Coroner names 23 killed by Alabama tornado as search for victims continues

The youngest victim was six and the oldest was 93.

The debris of a home in Beauregard, Alabama (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The debris of a home in Beauregard, Alabama (AP Photo/David Goldman)

By Kim Chandler and Jeff Martin, Associated Press

The 23 people confirmed to have been killed by the deadliest US tornado in nearly six years have come into focus after a coroner finished identifying them and released their names.

The youngest victim was six and the oldest was 93, while one family lost seven members.

“Just keep those families in your prayers,” Lee County coroner Bill Harris said, two days after the disaster. “It’s a tragic situation.”

The search for victims in and around the devastated rural community of Beauregard continued, with crews using heavy equipment to lift large chunks of wreckage.

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.”

The dead included 53-year-old David Wayne Dean, whose body was found in a neighbour’s yard after the twister demolished his mobile home on 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.”

Carol Dean with Megan Anderson and her 18-month-old daughter Madilyn (David Goldman/AP)

After the tornado passed, she 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 packed winds estimated at 170mph and chewed a path of destruction almost a mile wide in Alabama for nearly 27 miles, the National Weather Service said.

Ninety people were injured, the NWS added said.

Around Beauregard, an 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 unrecognisable piles of rubble.

Toys, clothes, insulation, water heaters and pieces of metal were scattered across the hillsides where the pines were snapped in half.

Law enforcement teams searching for victims used dogs and heat-detecting drones.

President Donald Trump said he would visit Alabama on Friday. He said “it’s been a tragic situation but a lot of good work is being done”.

It was the deadliest tornado to hit the US since May 2013, when a twister killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.

Government teams surveying storm damage confirmed on Tuesday that at least 18 tornadoes struck on Sunday in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina alone.

The youngest victim was Armando Hernandez Jr, an energetic six-year-old known to everyone as AJ.

“He kept a smile on his face all the time. He never met a stranger and he loved everybody,” his grandfather Bobby Kidd said in a WIAT-TV report.

On Sunday, AJ took shelter in a closet with his 10-year-old brother Jordan. “The house exploded and the force of the tornado snatched both the kids away,” Mr Kidd said

AJ’s brother and father remain in hospital in stable condition, he added.

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