BEAUREGARD, Ala. (WIAT)– March 3, 2019 is a day forever seared in many Alabamians’ minds, a day that changed lives after deadly tornadoes ripped through east Alabama.
The EF4 tornado took 23 lives, the nation’s deadliest tornado in nearly six years.
The youngest victim was 6 years old, the oldest 89. Ninety people were injured in the Beauregard area.
The following days, families started preparing for unexpected funerals.
Three days after the tornado, Cora Jones spoke with CBS 42. She lost her mother, father, and brother during the storm.
“He gained three angels. My Momma was so sweet, and Daddy always will keep you laughing and my brother Emmaniel, he could be mad and he is still smiling,” Jones said during the emotional interview.
Jones also said she lost several distant relatives. Her words wring true a year later: “It’s going to take the community a while to get over this.”
Portions of Beauregard were closed down for days while officials combed the area searching for any survivors, and any more casualties.
A group from Tallapoosa joined the efforts bringing dogs to join the search parties.
TALLACO K-9 Unit brought a team to look for survivors and anyone possibly trapped under debris.
“Our mission is to find the people that’s still missing and hopefully alive, but either way bring closure to the families. We’ve brought four dogs here last night to help them, and we are back here today trying to help them,” Faye Ingram told CBS 42 while ushering her dog, Spanky Possum, out of the car.
In the weeks following the storm, the community offered a glimmer of hope. Donations began pouring in immediately.
Children, teens, and adults alike were out at donation centers finding ways to help their community any way possible.
High School student, Zayden Adams told us, “I feel like if you are able, and everything is OK, you should be out helping because there are people who have lost everything.”
At one point, Providence Baptist Church started sending donations to other locations due to a surplus.
“It’s just really nice to see the kingdom of God work together for the good of everybody,” DeEmma Bailey told CBS 42 while she was volunteering at the church.
National and local organizations traveled to Lee County to help sort through the rubble and assist in the healing process.
Volunteers with Church of the Highlands and Operation Blessing could be seen out working with chainsaws and trucks to remove debris and tree limbs from crushed houses.
Survivors spoke about the fear and uncertainty of the deadly storms.
“Only warning we had was darkness right quick, and then it was silent. I mean, I was praying out loud for everybody and stuff at the time,” Smiths Station resident Chris Fortune recalled to our news teams. “Then, when it was over with, you know, we went outside and all the trees around our house is gone, and on my roof, I have a tin roof, and it looked like the tornado tried to pull it up.”
Recovery and relief efforts carried on for weeks. Most neighbors and volunteers starting early in the morning and carrying on well into the night.
It wouldn’t be until March 12 that students at West Smiths Station Elementary would be able to return to school.
Their playground was destroyed. Buildings, where children learn and play, were torn apart.
But the students remained optimistic. Over the next few days, first graders drew up blue prints to rebuild the playground. All grade levels adapted to “parking lot PE”. By March 18, Jenni Goins said for her, things felt normal.
An out of state school even donated brand new PE equipment to the students.
A year later, Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland recalls the somber day.
Many residents saying on social media, the storms still feel like they hit yesterday.
And while much of the storm damage is cleared out and several homes and businesses rebuilt, for many, there will always be a hole in their life, mourning their family, friends, and neighbors who lost their lives.
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