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Family devastated after losing 10 relatives in tornado

Published
Bernard Reese stands next to the rubble of his aunt's home in which she survived a tornado as he helps retrieve personal items in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

BEAUREGARD, Ala. (AP) — Cousins Cordarrly Jones and Demetria Jones have a hard time counting all the relatives they lost to a monster tornado that wiped out a rural community in Alabama.

Their grandparents, 89-year-old Jimmy Jones and 83-year-old Mary Louise Jones, were killed in their home on a two-lane road where most everyone shares family ties.

The couple's son Emmanuel Jones, a 53-year-old uncle to the cousins, is gone too. Also dead, they said, were seven cousins by both blood and marriage: Eric Jamal Stenson, 38; Florel Tate Stenson; 63; Henry Lewis Stenson; 65; James Henry Tate, 86; Tresia Robinson, 62; Raymond Robinson Jr., 63; and Maggie Delight Robinson, 57.

Stunned by the loss of 10 relatives and worried about still more who are hospitalized with serious injuries, the cousins stood Tuesday amid the wreckage of a row of family homes in tiny Beauregard, near the Georgia state line.

"It really hasn't fully hit me yet. I'm still trying to process it," said Cordarrly Jones, 29.

"Everybody in this area just about was related," said Demetria Jones, 28. "It's devastating."

With winds of as much as 170 mph (275 kph), the deadliest U.S. tornado in nearly six years rolled mobile homes across fields and caused even brick homes to collapse into unrecognizable heaps. At least 23 people were killed, some of them children. The full scale of the loss came into focus with the release of the names of the dead. The youngest victim was 6, the oldest 89.

It was the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. since May 2013, when an EF5 twister killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma. The enormous twister apparently churned for about 70 miles (110 kilometers), crossing the state line and ending in neighboring Georgia, the National Weather Service said. Government teams that surveyed Sunday's damage confirmed there was an outbreak of at least 20 twisters in Florida, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina.

On Tuesday, the search for bodies, pets and belongings continued in and around Beauregard amid the din of beeping heavy machinery and whining chain saws. Sheriff Jay Jones said the list of the missing shrunk from dozens to just seven or eight.

Richard Tate, who is part of the same family and lost four close relatives, said he was lucky to be alive. "It could have taken all of us the way it was moving," said Tate, who was inside his home with his wife when the structure was destroyed.

Bernard Reese, a distant relative of the Jones cousins, picked through the remains of his aunt's house on Tuesday. He said he found more than a half-dozen bodies or fatally injured residents along Lee County 39, the road where so many of the family members died.

"It bothers me, but it had to be done," said Reese, who lives about 2 miles away. He arrived in his truck after the twister passed and climbed over downed trees and power lines to get to the scene.

Reese's friend Dexter Norwood said he found three more bodies and the severed leg of a woman.

"I keep seeing it. I ain't slept worth a crap," said Norwood, 46. He suffered a fractured vertebra when the twister hit the mobile home he shared with his wife, but he said both are fine.

The bloated corpse of a gray horse lay on the ground beside the couple's home. Norwood said he had to euthanize the animal after the storm because it suffered a serious leg injury.

The extent of the damage and death left him shaken.

"I never thought I'd see it," he said. "It's rough."

The Jones cousins, who survived at least in part because don't live on the road where their relatives died, said they had to talk their way past police barricades to get to the scene. Officers, they said, kept asking for something to prove they were related to the victims.

"I just had to tell them that everything that proves who I am is out on that road," Cordarrly Jones said.

Demetria Jones, right, and his cousin Cordarrly Jones, walk through the damaged neighborhood where they said they lost ten relatives in a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Demetria Jones walks through the damaged neighborhood where he said he lost ten relatives in a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Debris litters the neighborhood where Bernard Reese, right, found victims after a tornado hit Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Dexter Norwood, left, and Bernard Reese talk about the people they found in the rubble immediately following a tornado that devastated their neighborhood in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Both men said they were haunted by the memories of seeing bodies they helped find. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Richard Tate, left, and his wife Cynthia retrieve personal items from what's left of their home where they survived a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Richard Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby.
A tattered American flag waves in the wind near the most damaged area in Beauregard, Ala., on Tuesday March 5, 2019. A fatal tornado struck Beauregard on Sunday afternoon. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Richard Tate walks through his neighborhood devastated from a tornado while retrieving personal items from his damaged home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby.
Richard Tate retrieves personal items from what's left of his home where he survived a tornado with his wife in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby.
Richard Tate stands amid what's left of his home where he survived a tornado with his wife Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in Beauregard, Ala. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm.
Cindy Sanford sifts through the debris while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
What's left of Cindy Sanford's home stands behind her after a tornado blew it off the foundation in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Sanford left her home with her grandson moments before the tornado hit and took shelter at a nearby church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford, center, sifts through the debris with help from her brother, Tim Lancaster, left, and stepfather, Michael Boutwell, while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford directs family members helping her sift through the debris while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Tim Lancaster, center, sifts through the debris while helping his sister retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Michael Boutwell sifts through the debris while helping his stepdaughter retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Kayla Causey sifts through the debris while helping her mother retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Debris is scattered after a tornado blew a home off its foundation in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford, second from right, sifts through the debris with help from her brother, Tim Lancaster, from left, daughter, Kayla Causey, and stepfather, Michael Boutwell, while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed Sanford's home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Trees stripped of their branches from a tornado stand against the setting sun in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Demetria Jones, right, and his cousin Cordarrly Jones, walk through the damaged neighborhood where they said they lost ten relatives in a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Demetria Jones, right, and his cousin Cordarrly Jones, walk through the damaged neighborhood where they said they lost ten relatives in a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Richard Tate stands amid what's left of his home where he survived a tornado with his wife Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in Beauregard, Ala. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm.
Richard Tate stands amid what's left of his home where he survived a tornado with his wife Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in Beauregard, Ala. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm. "I'm lucky to be alive," said Tate. "It could have taken all of us the way it was moving." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Richard Tate, left, and his wife Cynthia retrieve personal items from what's left of their home where they survived a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Richard Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby.
Richard Tate, left, and his wife Cynthia retrieve personal items from what's left of their home where they survived a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Richard Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby. "I'm lucky to be alive," he said. "It could have taken all of us the way it was moving." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Kayla Causey sifts through the debris while helping her mother retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Kayla Causey sifts through the debris while helping her mother retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Dexter Norwood, left, and Bernard Reese talk about the people they found in the rubble immediately following a tornado that devastated their neighborhood in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Both men said they were haunted by the memories of seeing bodies they helped find. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Dexter Norwood, left, and Bernard Reese talk about the people they found in the rubble immediately following a tornado that devastated their neighborhood in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Both men said they were haunted by the memories of seeing bodies they helped find. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford sifts through the debris while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford sifts through the debris while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Debris litters the neighborhood where Bernard Reese, right, found victims after a tornado hit Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Debris litters the neighborhood where Bernard Reese, right, found victims after a tornado hit Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Demetria Jones walks through the damaged neighborhood where he said he lost ten relatives in a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Demetria Jones walks through the damaged neighborhood where he said he lost ten relatives in a tornado in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Michael Boutwell sifts through the debris while helping his stepdaughter retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Michael Boutwell sifts through the debris while helping his stepdaughter retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Debris is scattered after a tornado blew a home off its foundation in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Debris is scattered after a tornado blew a home off its foundation in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Bernard Reese stands next to the rubble of his aunt's home in which she survived a tornado as he helps retrieve personal items in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Bernard Reese stands next to the rubble of his aunt's home in which she survived a tornado as he helps retrieve personal items in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford, second from right, sifts through the debris with help from her brother, Tim Lancaster, from left, daughter, Kayla Causey, and stepfather, Michael Boutwell, while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed Sanford's home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford, second from right, sifts through the debris with help from her brother, Tim Lancaster, from left, daughter, Kayla Causey, and stepfather, Michael Boutwell, while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed Sanford's home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A tattered American flag waves in the wind near the most damaged area in Beauregard, Ala., on Tuesday March 5, 2019. A fatal tornado struck Beauregard on Sunday afternoon. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
A tattered American flag waves in the wind near the most damaged area in Beauregard, Ala., on Tuesday March 5, 2019. A fatal tornado struck Beauregard on Sunday afternoon. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
What's left of Cindy Sanford's home stands behind her after a tornado blew it off the foundation in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Sanford left her home with her grandson moments before the tornado hit and took shelter at a nearby church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
What's left of Cindy Sanford's home stands behind her after a tornado blew it off the foundation in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Sanford left her home with her grandson moments before the tornado hit and took shelter at a nearby church. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Trees stripped of their branches from a tornado stand against the setting sun in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Trees stripped of their branches from a tornado stand against the setting sun in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Richard Tate retrieves personal items from what's left of his home where he survived a tornado with his wife in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby.
Richard Tate retrieves personal items from what's left of his home where he survived a tornado with his wife in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby. "I'm lucky to be alive," said Tate. "It could have taken all of us the way it was moving." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Richard Tate walks through his neighborhood devastated from a tornado while retrieving personal items from his damaged home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby.
Richard Tate walks through his neighborhood devastated from a tornado while retrieving personal items from his damaged home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Tate lost a sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and uncle in the storm, all who lived nearby. "I'm lucky to be alive," said Tate. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford, center, sifts through the debris with help from her brother, Tim Lancaster, left, and stepfather, Michael Boutwell, while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford, center, sifts through the debris with help from her brother, Tim Lancaster, left, and stepfather, Michael Boutwell, while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford directs family members helping her sift through the debris while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Cindy Sanford directs family members helping her sift through the debris while retrieving personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Tim Lancaster, center, sifts through the debris while helping his sister retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Tim Lancaster, center, sifts through the debris while helping his sister retrieve personal items after a tornado destroyed her home in Beauregard, Ala., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman)