Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station
Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station | 1
Lee County Strong | 2
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BIOS EDITORIAL Michelle Key Morgan Bryce Derek Herscovici
CONTRIBUTORS Natalie Anderson Auburn Chason Ann Cipperly Kelly Daniels Will Fairless
Michelle Key, Publisher Originally from Albertville, Alabama, Key and her family moved to the Opelika-Auburn area in 2011 after her husband’s retirement from the U.S. Navy. She is a graduate of Troy University, and she joined the Observer in 2014 as an office administrator before assuming ownership of the newspaper in January 2018.
Morgan Bryce, Editor
Born in Eustis, Florida, Bryce spent his childhood and early adult years in nearby Salem. An Auburn University journalism graduate, he joined the Observer as an intern in 2016 and has worked his way up to the current role of editor.
MARKETING Emily Key Woody Ross Rena’ Smith
PHOTOGRAPHY Churmell Mitchell Robert Noles Philip Shucet
CONTACT US Key Media, LLC 216 S. 8th Street Opelika, AL 36801 Phone: 334-749-8003 email@example.com LEE COUNTY STRONG is a special publication by Key Media, LLC dba the Opelika Observer Single copies are available for purchase.
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Robert Noles, Photographer Robert Noles is an award-winning photojournalist who has been with the Opelika Observer for more than 10 years. Originally from Tallassee, he is a graduate of Alabama Christian College and Auburn University.
Natalie Anderson, Staff Reporter Originally from Destin, Florida, Natalie went to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville to pursue her undergraduate studies in communication with a focus on public relations. Having recently moved to the Auburn-Opelika area, she joined the Opelika Observer team this past January.
John Crenshaw, Project Designer
Originally from Greenville, Alabama, John is an Auburn University graphic design graduate. As a member of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24, he proudly served 22 years and completed two tours to Iraq before retiring in 2013. John is currently the manager of McQuick Printing Company in Auburn, Alabama.
Derek Herscovici, Associate Project Editor Derek Herscovici is a journalist, editor and photographer from Tampa, Florida. In 2017, he served as managing editor of Auburn Magazine during the 125th Anniversary of Auburn Women campaign and commemorative issue. He is a 2014 graduate of Auburn University.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Publisher’s Letter...............................6 We Will Never Forget .....................11 The Storm.........................................23 Local, State, Federal Response ............................25 “Heart of the Community” ...........30 President Trump’s Visit to Beauregard..........................42 ‘mend’ ..............................................49 Donations, Gifts and Relief ...........54 Kayla Grimes ...................................75 Angel Wings ....................................81 “Lee County Strong” ......................85
I just can’t say enough about the local
organizations that stepped up to help and lead during this time. There was an overwhelming sense of the community’s
Survivors Share Their Stories.........89
desire to help that just permeated and
Looking at that, it just makes me really
underlies everything that’s happened... proud to live in Lee County. I really can’t
Rusty Sowell ..................................130
think of another place I’d rather be.
Hallmark “Joy” ..............................132
— Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones
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FROM THE PUBLISHER This publication is dedicated to the many friends and neighbors who woke up on March 3, 2019 not understanding that in a few hours their lives would be changed forever. Even as I sat in my basement, listening to the storm rage outside, I had no idea of the scope of the damage that was being inflicted upon our community. In the days and weeks that followed as we viewed the damage and shed tears with our neighbors, the idea of a publication preserving these memories and photographs that could be shared with the community became important to me. I am so grateful for the many businesses, organizations and people that helped us create this magazine and bring it to Lee County. Without each of you, this would not have been possible. It is my hope that this work will show the world why we are LEE COUNTY STRONG. May God bless each and everyone of you.
On the Cover On the front cover of this inaugural Lee County Strong publication is Beauregard native Wayne Robinson. As the editorial staff, we felt that this photo taken by Staff Photographer Robert Noles almost 30 days after the storm truly captured the essence and emotion of the events from March 3. Robinson has an amazing story to tell. Turn to page 89 to read more about his story and how his world was forever changed by that day. Robinson is the epitome of LEE COUNTY STRONG.
EDITORâ€™S NOTE: Many of the articles contained within this magazine were published in the Opelika Observer in the days and weeks following the storms. We have included the original month of publication when applicable and have added updates to some of those pieces . We have also included new, previously unpublished content and photographs.
We would like to thank Fringe Consignment for their donation, which helped make this publication possible. Lee County Strong | 6
Standing by our neighbors in Lee County
Opelika/Auburn 334-319-8795 â€˘ energysaversair.com Licenses: #GA-CN208697 #AL-97200
Years of Service
GLYNN SMITH CHEVROLET BUICK GMC When all is said and done, the real citadel of strength of any community is in the hearts and minds and desires of those who dwell there. ~Everett Dirksen
600 Columbus Parkway, Opelika www.GlynnSmith.com
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The wind may break the trees and wreak havoc upon our lives but we are, and forever will remain, LEE COUNTY STRONG
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Jonathan Marquez Bowen
Jimmy Lee Jones
James Henry Tate
Mary Louise Jones
Raymond Robinson Jr.
Marshall Lynn Grimes
Armando â€œA.J.â€? Hernandez
Florel Stenson Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station | 11
Charlotte was a valued employee and friend to all of us at Bartlett, Gunter and Yeager, CPAs for more than 20 years. We have missed her every day. Our clients have reached out to us and told us numerous accounts where she went over and above her duty to help them. A true professional who had a caring and compassionate side, she also was an adoring Mother to her son Justin.
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The Legacy of Local Accountant-Author
Morgan Bryce ~ March 2019
by her son Justin, a coworker and neighbor. “Cherished mother,” “skilled “She was an amazing accountant” and “admired woman who worked harder storyteller” were all terms used than almost anybody and to describe Beauregard resident gave me more than I could Charlotte Miller, one of the imagine,” Justin said. 23 individuals who passed “Charlotte was one of the away during the March 3, 2019 nicest people I’ve had the tornado. pleasure of meeting. She had Born and raised in a genuine, caring heart and Randolph County, Miller was always smiling,” said pursued an accounting degree Bartlett, Gunter & Yeager from Auburn University, later administrative assistant working as a CPA for the Kristin Yeager. Opelika-based Bartlett, Gunter “She was my neighbor for & Yeager firm. The Observer 17 years in my dad’s mobile was a client of hers for several home park. Always [a] very years. sweet and kind lady,” said Inspired by her upbringings, Michael Vickery. Miller penned a trilogy that “Charlotte was our captures the life and family accountant, but she was much story of fictional Randolph more than that. She was a County resident Janson Sander, gracious lady, a good friend as a half-Cherokee, half-white well as an accomplished author farmer. Published by NewSouth of a best-selling trilogy,” said Books, the books were strong former Observer editor Fred sellers according to a WSFA Woods. interview with editor-in-chief A graveside service for Randall Williams. NewSouth Miller was held on the morning Books of Montgomery has a of March 9, followed by a special exhibit of her work on celebration-of-life service at display in the Read Herring First Baptist Church Opelika Bookshop. that afternoon. Only 59 years old, Miller’s Copies of Miller’s trilogy are life and legacy were celebrated available for purchase on www. through numerous social amazon.com. media posts, including remarks
“Charlotte was one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. She had a genuine, caring heart and was always smiling.” — Kristin Yeager
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David, Ashley Thornton One Year After Losing Their ‘EVERYTHING’ Will Fairless ~ Feb. 2020
Taylor Thornton was one of the 23 people who lost their lives in the tornadoes that hit Lee County last March. She was 10 years old, in fourth grade, when she returned from a camping trip with her best friend, Kayla Grimes, Grimes’ father and Grimes’ soon-to-be stepmother. Kayla was the only survivor of those four, who were at the Grimeses’ house when the tornadoes tore through the area. David Thornton, Taylor’s father, recounted his experience of the day of the tornadoes nearly a year later. He said that, naturally, he had no reason to worry about Taylor’s safety that Sunday. He and his wife, Ashley, weren’t paying attention to the news or weather, and once they heard there was a tornado threat, they didn’t panic. Seven miles from the Grimeses’ house, nothing observable through the Thorntons’ windows betrayed the severity of the forming storm. “I was just blowing it off because storms never bother me,” David said. The Thorntons got a call that afternoon from a friend who said she could not get in contact with the Grimeses. The call interrupted the beginning of David’s Sunday nap [after all, it had been a typical day], and he headed toward the Grimeses’ house in his truck. “It was overcast, but I’m not even thinking that anything’s wrong,” David said. During the drive, he told another concerned friend, “It’s fine.” When he got close enough to see emergency vehicles speeding around, he realized that something was wrong. He was turned away at a roadblock, the explanation “I’ve got to find my daughter” not enough for him to be granted access to the storm-damaged area. On the street that was now only identifiable by its location, David
“I’m sitting on the ground by my daughter every Sunday right now...”
parked his truck and set out on foot. He walked past, stepped over and averted his eyes from horrors that he said he’ll never forget. The mantra he repeated internally to keep his feet moving was the same one that was insufficient at the roadblock. “It still didn’t register in my mind how bad this was,” David said, “I thought I was gonna walk out there and Taylor was gonna be sitting there waiting for me.” Taylor was a very bright girl; her father said she was inquisitive in the best way, that she wanted to know everything about everything. She helped him make his coffee at Starbucks during their pre-school stops at the coffee shop, a routine that will be missed. Her curiosity was reflected in the many questions she asked, the most common of which, her father said, was, “Where are we gonna eat?” Ashley said of her daughter, “She never fussed, she was just laid back. She was just the sweetest, sweetest little girl.” She was loving and gentle: “I would tell her to hug my neck until my head falls off,” David said, “and she would act like she was squeezing hard, but she wouldn’t be because she didn’t want to hurt me.” Of course, Taylor’s parents would give anything to have her back. David said, though, that if his daughter could talk to him, she’d say that she doesn’t want to come back because heaven is so much better, that every one of her questions has been answered. Ashley nods and agrees with a chuckle, “Oh yeah, she would [say that].” On that Sunday last March, when David made it through the chaos to the house where his daughter had been staying, he was stopped by one of the first responders there who was in the process of identifying the body of a young lady close by. David supplied a picture of Taylor, hoping it would not be helpful. He asked several times, “Is that my daughter?”
Finally, a positive identification was made, and David was allowed to sit with his daughter, whose body was covered at the time. “I think, before we could get friends and family to him, he was there about three hours,” Ashley said. Before the end of those three hours, Taylor’s body was uncovered and David was shocked to see the relatively good condition his daughter was in. “For some reason, my little girl was lying there like she was asleep,” David said, “like she missed the destruction of what just happened.” He said that he helped carry his daughter out in a body bag. Then he said that everyone was fantastic. The stark juxtaposition of those two statements, which David did make back to back, emphasizes how fantastic the people he dealt with must have been. “I don’t know who was around, but the most caring folks were there,” David said. In contrast to what he described as an eerie feeling of destruction in the air, a tremendous number of official and unofficial responders were out providing any help they could. The Thorntons, appropriately, labeled those people “guardian angels.” In the year since Taylor’s death, the Thorntons’ spirits have been buoyed by their faith. “The only key that works for us is our faith,” David said, “If we didn’t have it, the door is locked, we’re done.” One manifestation of their faith’s work in their lives is the comfort they find at church, not just because of the service, but because of the community with whom they share it, which has given them “10,000 Reasons” to feel a little better after such a tragedy. The greater Lee County community has also been behind the Thorntons, as a GoFundMe set up by Kaitlyn Willing eclipsed its $15,000 goal in one day and ended up more than doubling that amount. The Thorntons made sure to emphasize the work the people in Lee County have done to raise money for the families of those whose lives were lost, to rebuild homes that were destroyed and otherwise recover from the storm. They also said that they want every one of the 23 lives that were lost to be remembered. David said, “We didn’t have any home damage, but we lost everything.”
Jonathan Marquez Bowen Jonathan Bowen, 9 years old, passed away alongside his cousin Mykayla Waldon. According to his mother Shamel, he was fascinated by the virtual assistant Alexa, often asking questions about the solar system. Jonathan also loved to play video games and work with numbers. Brother Jaylen, 12 years old, said his younger brother “brought joy to everyone around him.”
Vicki Braswell Salem native Vicki Braswell, 69 years old, was at home with two of her granddaughters when the tornado hit. She is survived by her son Ray Rush and wife Shannon; daughter Remy Whatley and husband Steve; brother David Leddon; sisters, Debra Way and Beverly Parks, grandchildren, Payton Whatley, McKenzie Whatley, Willow Rush, Liam Rush, Dalton Elliott and Kali Elliott; nephews Jason Way, Jonathan Way and niece, Skyla Way.
Sheila Creech & Marshall Lynn Grimes Shelia Creech passed away on March 3, 2019. She was 59 years old. Creech had survived Hurricane Michael, which hit Panama City in 2018. She was in Lee County visiting her fiancée Marshall Lynn Grimes, also a victim of the tornadoes. He rode with the Christian Motorcyclists Association and had lived in Opelika most of his life. Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station | 15
David Dean David Dean, 53 years old, was at his Beauregard residence when the storms hit on March 3. An avid biker, he was affectionately known as “RoadDog,” especially when riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He is survived by his wife Carol, three children Gary, Mechelle and Theo and nine grandchildren: Chase Dean, Haylee Spinks, Blake Dean, Abbygail Ballman, Eli Baker, Sophia Dean, Raylan Baker, Macey Dean and Kaitelyn Baker.
Armando “A.J.” Hernandez Armando “A.J.” Hernandez, 6 years old, was a firstgrade student and the youngest victim of the March 3 tornadoes. Hernandez sang in his first-grade class musical just two days before the tornado. He attended Providence Baptist Church and liked riding bicycles, inventing things and watching Alabama football. Hernandez was known as a happy child who touched the lives of all he met.
Emmaniel Jones Emmaniel Jones, 53 years old, lived with his parents in Beauregard, where they were when the tornadoes hit. He was known to cut grass for elderly people in Beauregard during the spring and summer months. According his sister Cora, Emmaniel enjoyed taking care of his parents, feeding them and helping them keep up with their medication schedule.
Jimmy Lee Jones Jimmy Lee Jones, 89 years old, spent more than 40 years working on E.B. Smith’s farm in Beauregard. He was a member of Union Grove Missionary Baptist church where he was a deacon. He was a farmer who loved to grow vegetables. Even at home, his passion was farming and raising vegetables. Jones, called “Shag” by his family, was at home with his wife, Lois and his son, Emmaniel, when the tornadoes struck.
Mary Louise Jones Mary Louise Jones, more commonly known as “Lois,” was 83 years old. She loved flowers. Jones was a member of Union Grove Missionary Baptist Church where she was the mother of the Church. She and her husband Jimmy Lee worked together on a farm early in their marriage and spent the rest of her life working as a beloved housewife and mother. They had eight children: Barbara, Benjamin, Bobby, Cora, Emmaniel [died March 3, 2019] Jackie, Nathaniel [deceased Sept. 2018] and William, and nine grandchildren.
Mamie Elizabeth Koon Mamie Elizabeth Koon, 67 years old, was born in Crenshaw County but resided in Smiths Station and Opelika for most of her life. Koon had two siblings, brother Gilbert Roberts and sister Elaine Owens, a daughter, Melissa Hussey who lives in Columbus, Georgia and a son named Ernest Gene Holmes who lives in Smiths Station and six grandchildren whom she “adored,” according to her family. She was retired from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
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Irma Gomez-Moran Irma Gomez-Moran, 41 years old, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she lived most of her life. There, she raised her two daughters, Andrea and Angela, and worked as a secretary within a local school system. Years later after her divorce, GomezMoran found love again and married Cameron Aycock. Five years ago, she and her husband, along with their children, moved to the United States and made Beauregard their home.
Ryan Pence & Felicia Woodall Felicia Woodall and Ryan Pence, both 22 years old, were engaged to be married and were victims of the deadly tornadoes. They had been in a relationship for several years and shared a home in Beauregard. Pence who worked for the Eufaula Parks and Recreation Department was working to get a degree in criminal justice and pursue a law-enforcement career. Woodall had worked at the hospital [in Eufaula] but had left her job to be closer to their home. They loved their four dogs.
Maggie Robinson Maggie Robinson, 57 years old, was a beloved figure in Opelika’s medical community. She was at her Beauregard residence when the EF-4 tornado struck. Robinson began her career at East Alabama Medical Center as a nursing assistant in the progressive care unit before working as an administrator and member of the hospital’s PACU unit. Employed nearly 40 years with EAMC, her passing left many of her colleagues in shock. According to EAMC Chaplain Laura Eason, Robinson’s co-workers called her the ‘true light’ of that department.
Raymond & Teresa Robinson Raymond Robinson, 63 years old, was known affectionately as “Junior” by friends and family. Graduating from Beauregard High School in 1974, Junior worked as a mechanic for several years following training at Opelika Technical School in auto mechanics. He worked at West Point Stevens for 29 years. His wife Teresa, age 62, also died in the storm. Her early years were spent in Brownville, Ala. She graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1975. One of her early jobs was at the Lee County Hospital. After 27 years of service, she retired from West Point Stevens.
Eric Jamaal Stenson Eric Stenson, 38 years old, was a graduate of Beauregard High School and Southern Union State Community College. He started working for Opelika’s Walmart Distribution Center shortly after he finished school, where he worked for more than 15 years. A member of Pine Level AME Zion Church, he served there as an usher and youth administrator. He was married to Valerie Stenson, and together they had four children: Eric Stenson Jr., Dillian Stenson, Daquan Roberson and Raven Roberson.
Florel Stenson Florel Stenson, 63 years old, graduated from Sanford High School in 1973 and worked more than 35 years as a secretary in the Extension Department at Auburn University. After her retirement, she devoted herself to her church, Pine Level A.M.E. Zion Church in Hatchechubee, where she served as secretary and treasurer.
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Henry Stenson Henry Stenson, 65 years old, was a long-haul truck driver by trade. He graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1972 and spent several years in the United States Marine Corps before returning to live in Alabama. Henry and Florel were married for more than 45 years. He is survived by one daughter, Krystal [Lionel] Garrett and six grandchildren, Eric Stenson Jr., Dillian Stenson, Makenzie Scott, Kenadi Garrett, Daquan Roberson and Raven Roberson.
James Henry Tate Originally from Marvyn, James Tate spent more than 35 years living and working on Long Island in New York. When he was ready to retire in the mid1990s, he decided it was time to come home to his native Alabama. He was the father of five children: Derria Franks of Hempstead, New York; James E. [Lizzie] Tate of Long Beach, New York; Patricia E. Waldon of Hempstead, New York; Cheryle J. Tate of Uniondale, New York and Alicia Ann Riggins of Freeport, New York. He had 19 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren and a sister named Essie Reaves in Smiths Station.
Mykayla Waldon Mykayla Waldon, 8 years old, was a third-grade student at Beauregard Elementary School. Her aunt Tiff Tiff Wise described her as putting forth “nothing but pure, innocent love” throughout her life. Mykala’s passion was dance – her first love – and she wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader when she grew up. Her father Michael described her as being a “one of a kind” child. In her honor, Mykayla’s mother Tyesha opened a dance studio at 300 Columbus Parkway called “Royal House of Klass,” with the “K” intended to honor her daughter’s memory.
Four Children’s Library
Morgan Bryce ~ June 2019 Photos submitted to Opelika Observer
eauregard resident Robin Ashworth is helping lead efforts to create “The Four Children’s Library,” a space that would honor the four children who lost their lives during the March 3 tornado. Ashworth said inspiration for the project came after taking her sevenyear-old granddaughter Mattie on a recent visit to the Auburn Public Library. “She drew this picture and smiled at me and said ‘look Mawmaw.’ It was an outdoor scene and she showed where she had drawn herself, Jack, a family pet we lost recently and A.J. [one of the four children]. She told me that A.J. and Jack were playing in heaven,” Ashworth said. “I was sitting here late last Sunday night and I kept seeing her smile as she showed me the painting. I remember feeling too that the Lord was laying the phrase ‘children’s library’ on my heart that night, which helped set this into motion.” A GoFundMe account was launched Thursday to help make this dream possible.
“I want the children of Beauregard to know that these four children were here. We’re going to remember that they were here but we’re also going to find a reason to smile and be glad that we had them when they were here.” In the ideal space and with permission from the victim’s parents, Ashworth shared that she would like to display non-specific artwork of the four children, divide the library into four quadrants with themes dedicated to their interests and establish a common area where children could draw and paint as well as read used or “well-loved books.” “I don’t expect a new building with nice furniture and brand new books, but just a decent, nice clean facility with clean books, toys and learning tools that children can use,” Ashworth said. When asked about the long-term impact and potential of having a children’s library in her community, Ashworth said she believes it would be a lasting resource for Beauregard children for generations to come. “Day by day, this project is becoming more about the
children of Beauregard than anything else. I don’t want recognition or for my family and I to benefit from this,” Ashworth said. “I want the children of Beauregard to know that these four children were here. We’re going to remember that they were here but we’re also going to find a reason to smile and be glad that we had them when they were here.” “We may raise what we need by tomorrow, or in six months or a year from now. But, I’m willing to work as long as it takes to help make it happen.” Ashworth credited her daughter Stacie, family friend Frank Taunton and Smiths Station student journalist and resident Colin Scroggins for their help with the project. Visit the following site to donate: www.gofundme.com/the-fourchildren039s-library.
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. ______________ . _______________ .
Continuing to pray for our friends and family in the Beauregard community . ______________ . _______________ .
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The Tornadoes Hit
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Local and State Officials Update Public on Damage and Death Toll
Morgan Bryce ~ March 2019 Photos by Robert Noles
oon after the devastating tornadoes struck Lee County March 3, 2019, local and state officials gathered to update the public on the damage and death toll. The storms were part of a larger outbreak of severe weather which affected portions of Alabama and Georgia. In a press conference held at
Beauregard High School, Chris Darden of the National Weather Service confirmed that the tornado that hit Beauregard was a .87 milewide EF-4 with winds of nearly 170 miles per hour that traveled along a 24-mile path in Lee County. The tornado was the deadliest since the Moore, Oklahoma tornado in May 2013, and the most significant natural disaster in Lee County history, according to Lee County Emergency
Management Agency director Kathy Carson. “[This information] was based on our findings at County Road 39, which is nearby. There are two other tornado tracks that we’re assessing right now … and the [one in Macon County] probably crossed the track of the EF-4 in some spots, and will be an EF-1 most likely,” Darden said. Sheriff Jay Jones and coroner Bill Harris confirmed that the death toll
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was 23 people, with four of those being children ages 6, 8, 9 and 10. Carson said storm preparations began as early as the Thursday morning before the storms, as part of a concerted effort to make citizens aware of the weather threats that the county was facing for Sunday. “We knew ahead of time and we took it seriously and were able to ramp up our warnings to the public and get their attention and help them know that they needed to go ahead and figure out what they needed to do,” Carson said. The extent of damage stretched beyond Beauregard into eastern portions of Lee County, including the Salem community and Smiths Station. Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland verified that there were two people injured and 24 people rendered homeless in his city because of the storm. The tornado event did not go unnoticed, as state and national
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media have provided coverage on the storms. President Donald Trump tweeted his support and called Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on March 4 to personally offer his support and express his concern for those affected. “[That] morning at 8:15 a.m., President Trump called my cell phone and wanted to know about the devastation. I told [him] that we certainly had a tragic loss of [lives] and lot of property damage,” Ivey said. “He asked what he could do, and I said, ‘Mr. President, we are working with FEMA. Could you pass [along] the request for [an] expedited disaster recovery declaration?’ He responded immediately and said of course you’ll have my support for a state I love.” Ivey added that she learned that affected areas will receive “A-Plus treatment” from FEMA following her conversation with the President. Waves of support have flooded into Lee County during the first
24 hours. In some cases, crews of volunteers arrived on the scene to clean and clear roads for first responders. “The responses we’ve received to this is [incredible]. We’re very fortunate to be in Lee County in the state of Alabama … we are eternally grateful for all the outside support we’ve received,” Jones said. “The folks in Beauregard are resilient people. They’re community oriented and you will not find a stronger group of people anywhere.” Among the national organizations that were present were the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse. Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard served as the main recovery operations center while First Baptist Church Opelika was an auxiliary. “We will overcome this loss. We’ve done it before, we can do it again and we will do it together,” Ivey said.
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MACON - LEE COUNTY TORNADO PATH 03-03-2019
• Rating - EF 4 • Estimated Wind - 170 mph • Fatalities/Injuries - 23 fatalities/ at least 100 injured • Damage Path Length - 26.73 miles • Maximum Path Width - .91 mile *National Weather Service
• 230 Homes Destroyed • 141 Homes with Major Damage *Lee County Emergency Management Agency and FEMA
‘Heart of the Community’ As witnessed by Sheriff Jay Jones
Ann Cipperly - Feb. 2020
n March 3, 2019, Sheriff Jay Jones was closely watching the weather. The local EMA had notified his office a few days earlier on Wednesday that they were getting alerts from the National Weather Service in Birmingham about a storm system coming in from the west. It was predicted to arrive in Lee County sometime late Saturday or early Sunday morning. As the system moved across Mississippi with damaging winds, the intensity of the storm was elevated. “We were watching,” Jones remembered. “We get a lot of warnings and often think nothing will happen here. Around noon on March 3 television stations began to preempt regular programming for non-stop weather coverage.” A little after 2 p.m., the meteorologist on Channel 12 reported there was a tornado indicated by radar approaching southern Lee County. Sheriff Jones remembers him saying to take cover now if you were in the areas of Beauregard, Moffitt’s Mill, Smiths Station and Monterey Heights. “When he said the radar indicates debris in the air,” says Jones, “it meant the tornado was on the ground and pulling things into the air.” Jones had prepared ahead for the storm. He immediately gathered his equipment and headed to the Beauregard area. “I was listening to the sheriff ’s communication channel and heard deputies reporting significant damage at Highway 51 and Lee Roads 39 and 38,” Lee County Strong | 30
Photo submitted by Jay Jones
he said. “Others were saying a communication tower was down across all four lanes on 280 in the Smiths Station area, and there was roof and house damage.” As he was driving to Beauregard, everything looked fine until he arrived at the intersection of Lee Road 38 and Alabama Highway 51. “All of a sudden, I entered a zone where it appeared as though a giant blade had raked the ground. There were no trees standing, and everything was on the ground. Power poles were down and wires were everywhere covered with debris from homes. “I was not prepared for what I saw,” Jones said. “I was expecting to see damage, but I didn’t expect it to be on that scale.” “It was impressive how many people we knew were coming to help, but es-
pecially the number that were already there immediately after the tornado passed. As long as I live, I’ll never forget seeing the faces of people I know who were affected by the storm but were out helping others, even if their home was severely damaged, or just gone,” Jones said. “It really gives you a look into the heart of what this community is all about … despite what their circumstance may be, they were out there helping their neighbor.” Community residents along with patrol deputies and members of the Beauregard Volunteer Fire Department had begun clearing the roads. Jones was walking on Lee Road 38 when he received the first call that a victim had been located. When he arrived, a deputy was there. “I told him to stay with the victim. I came across one individual who was in shock and
had a head wound. I helped dress his wound and directed him to an ambulance. “When another call came in about another victim,” Jones said, “it dawned on me that this was going to be worse than originally thought. I heard the radio traffic report a child victim had been found. Loss of any life is tragic, but it goes to another level when you hear it is a child. “As more people arrived we established a command post and began directing people bringing in equipment,” Jones added. “We had to do as much as we could before we lost daylight. Reports of more victims started coming in and the number kept climbing. I remember thinking, ‘please don’t let this number get higher,’ but it did.” Their first mission was to locate people who needed medical assistance, conduct searches and rescue those who had been located. “With the other deputies,” Jones said, “we did the best we could to search the area and organize volunteers coming in to assist with the search efforts.” While they had a plan, the scale of what they were confronting was something that had not been anticipated. “We adapted with assistance from Opelika and Auburn police and firemen,” Jones said. “When they saw a need, they did it. We have the best in Lee County.” Sheriff ’s units from around the state arrived to help by Sunday evening, including deputies from south and north Alabama. The EMA in Opelika was working to respond with resources as they were requested. By Sunday night, there was a confirmed count of 23 victims. A list of people missing was developed and a search conducted by investigating units working with partnering agencies in the state. Jones said he was impressed with how the community came together
Photo submitted by Jay Jones
and how everyone worked together to help. By Monday night the power companies had power restored to all structures capable of receiving service. “Providence Baptist Church was a rock for the community,” he said. “Everyone at Providence contributed as the church became a central point of refuge for those affected by the storms.” On Wednesday, everyone on the list of missing persons was found. “I thought that was a Herculean effort involving searching nonstop and checking hospitals out-of-town,” Jones said. Local law enforcement worked with the protective detail when President Donald Trump visited on Friday after the tornado. “This is a week that will never be forgotten by so many people,” Jones said. “My heart hurt for the grieving families. My heart hurt because I knew a lot of the people and families involved.”
Jones has been one of those caring people. While he credits many organizations and volunteers coming in to help, he arrived early and worked long hours for days, barely seeing his wife Judy. “I just can’t say enough about the local organizations that stepped up to help and lead during this time. There was an overwhelming sense of the community’s desire to help that just permeated and underlies everything that’s happened,” he said. “Looking at that, it just makes me really proud to live in Lee County. I really can’t think of another place I’d rather be.” Jones has seen challenges since taking office in 1999, but the past year has been significant with the catastrophic tornado, causing the worst disaster and loss of life in the history of Lee County. “We are here to serve the people and do what we can to make this community safe, and be there for them when they need us,” Jones said.
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Sen. Doug Jones Meets with Tornado Survivors, Local Leaders Morgan Bryce ~ May 2019
individuals, so he can put all of that information together.” During a press conference with the en. Doug Jones visited Smiths Station to meet with tornado media, Jones stated that his visit “was survivors and local leaders to focused on meeting with people” but that he plans to return and assess discuss ways the state can better affected areas in the near future. He address future natural disasters. also praised the efforts of local, state Jones met privately with residents affected by the March 3 tornadoes at and federal emergency management Smiths Station Baptist Church’s Studio agencies for their handling of the 4:12 building and received updates situation. “When I was standing here [in on recovery efforts. Later, in a roundMarch,] I told folks I wanted to come table meeting with local dignitaries back and check on things to see how including District 4 Commissioner the federal government was doing,” Robert Ham and Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland, Jones fielded Jones said. “I knew the folks in Lee County locally, the EMA and state questions and received input on a number of issues, with the main focus folks are doing an amazing job. I felt like the FEMA people were doing revolving on long-term assistance in their job from what I’ve seen.” the aftermath of a natural disaster. Other speakers included Lee “All in all it went very well,” said County EMA Director Kathy Carson Ham, who participated in the and State EMA Director Brian meeting. “The part of it that went Hastings, who explained that they will good is the part where we have a guy continue fighting for fewer obstacles that’s a U.S. senator who is listening and “red tape” to make the future aid, and has the horsepower to make things change. He’s listening not to me recovery and rebuilding processes as a small-time county commissioner, easier for victims. “We have a very close partnership but he’s listening to the victims. He’s listening to what happened to these with FEMA … it’s one team, one
fight. But, one of the things we run into is helping them in spite of themselves … it’s not FEMA, it’s just the federal bureaucracy,” Hastings said. Jones traveled to Auburn later in the day for a town-hall forum with students, with topics ranging from marijuana legalization to prison conditions across the state.
Lee County has our support and we are proud to be a part of such a strong community. #LeeCountyStrong
8219 N Crossing Ct, Fortson, Georgia 31808 Lee County Strong | 32
Coroner Bill Harris Shares Experiences, Stories in Aftermath of the Tornadoes Morgan Bryce – March 2019 Photos by Robert Noles
raveling down Marvyn Parkway on March 3, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris remembers how he felt as reports of casualties from the EF-4 tornado flooded local radio frequencies. “The first report was three confirmed casualties, and I thought to myself, ‘this is worse than I thought.’ As we got further down the road there was reports of it being five casualties, and I began wondering what I had gotten myself into,” Harris said. As Harris neared the Beauregard Volunteer Fire Department on Highway 51, he encountered the outer rainbands of the second tornado, an EF-2, forcing him to take cover behind the elementary school. The scene at the fire department was chaotic, according to Harris. With previous experience as East Alabama Medical Center’s paramedic supervisor, he worked alongside fire chief Michael Holden and others to coordinate the transportation of the more than 70 injured to receive medical aid. As more bodies were recovered and brought to the station, Harris decided to relocate across the street to the high school to begin the identification process. That first evening, all 23 of the victims were
recovered, 22 on the scene and one who later died in the emergency room. With darkness encroaching, Harris said he felt a sense of dread about what the next day’s findings would bring. “In my mind, there was no doubt that we were going to find more victims, just based on the devastation down there. They had to call off operations that night because things got too dangerous,” Harris said. “And thankfully, there were no more … which was just a miracle.” The victim-identification process went smoother than expected, as first responders and members of the statewide mortuary response team helped Harris avoid having to bring families to personally view the bodies of their potential loved ones. Amidst the work and ongoing search-and-recovery process were numerous local and national media requests for interviews. Participating in most of that week’s press conferences held at Beauregard High School, he said it was his first time to appear on the national stage. “It was no different than anything I’d done before, just a whole lot more cameras in front of me. My job was to tell the truth and what the story was,” Harris said. After identifying the final victim on the afternoon of March
“Lee County is a great place with great people. There’s no doubt that we will come back stronger than ever, but it will take years before we fully recover from this,” 4, Harris’s work was finished when official search-and-recovery efforts ended on March 5. On Friday of that week, he was able to meet President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania during their visit to Providence Baptist Church, a meeting he deemed an honor. “Just by chance I was able to get into the church and meet him as he spoke to the volunteers. He talked to me briefly and thanked me for what
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I had done … then, the First Lady asked if my family and I were ok and I said, ‘yes ma’am. Thank you for asking,’” Harris said. “People were asked to take off any MAGA hats they were wearing because it wasn’t a political visit. I believe in his heart that he cares about us and the American people as a whole.” Twenty-three deaths marks the highest number of fatalities Harris said he has witnessed in his 21 years as coroner and the greatest natural disaster to strike Lee County in his lifetime. Along with improved preparedness plans for when the next disaster strikes, Harris said he believes this is a galvanizing moment in time for Lee County citizens as they rebuild and restore what was lost. “Lee County is a great place with great people. There’s no doubt that we will come back stronger than ever, but it will take years before we fully recover from this,” Harris said. “I pray I never have to be a part of something like this again.”
Local, County, State And Federal Agencies Show Up In Force
Kelly Daniel - March 2019 Photo by Robert Noles
he Lee County Emergency Management Agency played a major role in preparing for the severe weather on March 3 and ensuring that the disaster response was rapid and coordinated. Rita Smith, who serves the Lee County EMA as public information officer, described local first responders as responding to the tragic events with a combination of professionalism, compassion and teamwork. A heartbreaking truth of working in emergency management is that even if
governments, civic organizations and citizens do everything right, as Lee County communities did leading up to and following the March 3 disaster, fatalities can still happen in a powerful tornado, Smith explained. “We don’t mind cleaning up debris and property damage, but it’s the loss of life that is heartbreaking for everyone working as first responders and emergency management professionals,” Smith said. “While everyone hopes that conditions won’t come together to produce a deadly storm, the EMA staff and first responders weren’t shocked by the impact of the March 3 storm.” As the EMA posted on
Facebook on March 8, “In our area, tornadoes have been and will remain the number one threat to life and property as it pertains to natural hazards.” Rather than surprise, the main reaction was that of deep sadness for the loss of life and injuries that occurred. The LCEMA’s public information campaign in the days leading up to the storm demonstrated the EMA’s commitment to their mission of partnering with Lee County citizens to prepare for and respond to emergency situations. As early as the Wednesday before March 3, the LCEMA began to issue notifications of potential severe weather.
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Morgan Bryce — March 2019 Photos submitted by Mayor F.L. Copeland
inutes after the monstrous wedge-like tornado ravaged his beloved hometown and the city he leads, Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland spent the afternoon and evening of March 3 checking on constituents who were affected by the storm. Nothing could have prepared him for the devastation he was about to witness. Though its power diminished as it crossed through the Southern portion of Lee County, the once EF-4 classified tornado responsible for killing 23 individuals in the Beauregard community packed a significant punch in Smiths Station, maintaining winds of nearly 100 miles per hour and decimating the homes of an estimated 70 families. “I was in a state of shock and disbelief as I saw what had unfolded here. It’s truly a miracle that no one lost their lives,” Copeland said. “I panicked the first few hours after because I wasn’t sure what to do next.” City council members and officials, including planning and zoning director Lisa Deason, came to Copeland’s aid, helping jumpstart the citywide cleanup and recovery process. Multiple emergency response organizations began pouring into Lee County Strong | 36
the city in the hours and days after the storm passed, with the Alabama Forestry Commission taking the lead. More than 5,000 volunteers flowed into the city that week to assist those in need, an experience that Copeland described as humbling. “We had people of all backgrounds come and help, something that didn’t truly hit me until that following Saturday morning, when a group of Muslim volunteers were in the midst of their morning prayers behind City Hall. One came up to me afterwards and said, ‘we are here for you to help and do what we can to assist you in this time of need,’” Copeland said. “There are really no words to offer for them and others who gave so much of their time and resources to help us. It’s been nothing short of incredible.” Smiths Station’s first city council meeting after the storm was full of
raw emotion as AFC representatives provided updates on the recovery. “This is my 19th year with the commission, and I’ve been tasked to areas that have been affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters, and I can honestly say I’ve never worked with a group of people like y’all have here in my entire life. I have never come into a place and been treated like this,” said AFC public information officer Joel Bartlett. Council Place 4 member Richard Cooley brushed aside tears as he described his interaction with the group. “Sadly, the people of this community will not fully understand what you and your organization have done,” Cooley said. “I’ve been on this council for a good chunk of my life, and these people are family. We appreciate you coming here and joining our family,
which you will forever be a part of.â€? Recovery efforts continued across the city and hardest-hit areas along Lee roads 294, 295 and 318. Resource centers at the Buckeye Acres Shopping Center and Mount Olive Baptist Church were opened and staffed with officials from several emergency response organizations to assist residents in need. Supplies were being distributed to citizens from City Hall and a nearby warehouse. â€œMy thoughts and prayers are also with the Beauregard community which has endured so much as a result of this storm. Together, we will rebuild and recover, because of the great, amazing people who live here in Lee County,â€? Copeland said.
We express our deepest appreciation for the privilege of serving your family. We get up each day and are blessed to work with a incredible group of people and serve this wonderful community.
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Local Response Saved Lives Kelly Daniel — March 2019 Photos submitted by John Atkinson
fter the tornadoes left a swath of tremendous devastation and loss in portions of Lee County, East Alabama Medical Center demonstrated proactive leadership that was vital to ensuring that injured survivors received the care they needed. Bruce Zartman, who serves as EAMC’s vice president of Supply Chain and Perioperative Services and incident commander, described his unit’s response to the situation. “About 10 to 15 minutes after the tornado touched down and we began to hear damage reports from the field, we implemented our disaster plan and stood up our full Incident Command Center. The ICC provided a communications link for all of the various activities occurring throughout the organization,” Zartman said. Despite the shock and sadness that was felt by many in Lee County, EAMC employees worked tirelessly to help in the efforts to care for the victims of the storm. “This was a tragic and difficult day for so many people in our community, and it affected our staff in a profound way, too. For several hours straight, it was all hands on deck as we received around 60 patients from the tornado,” said EAMC director of public relations and marketing John Atkinson. “As
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has been reported, one young patient died after arriving at the hospital – that was extremely difficult. Plus, one of the 23 deaths reported from the tornadoes was our own Maggie Robinson, who had worked with us for nearly 40 years.” Those working with Emergency Medical Services were among the first to see the extent of the devastation and to care for victims. “On arrival to the scene it was almost like ‘Is this a dream? Did this really happen?’ However, amid the devastation and tragedy, emergency workers showed bravery and resolve,” said EMS manager Austin Bayles said. “As a first responder, you know time is of the essence in finding the injured in order to limit loss of life. This is when your years of experience and training kicks in,” Bayles added. “First responders Lee County Strong | 40
are like a family and always there to go the extra mile with you, so it was no surprise that when more help was needed, surrounding counties and agencies responded with people, ambulances and equipment. They responded with a look of determination on their faces and a sense of camaraderie that bonds us as first responders, and for that, I am thankful and forever appreciative.” As emergency responders rescued victims and provided initial treatment, the emergency department and other patient care areas prepared so that they were ready to meet the influx of injured tornado survivors. “The Emergency Department was the most affected; however, numerous other areas were significantly impacted in support of the volume of patients and family members. We quickly realized we would need to
establish several alternate care sites within the hospital to care for patients as they came through the ED,” Zartman said. “These were clinical areas, but not ones that are normally staffed on Sundays. Additional clinical staff, including nurses and physicians, were called in to provide patient care in these areas.” In addition, a mobile healthcare clinic was sent to the areas that had faced destruction, treating victims and volunteers alike free of charge, with updates on the mobile clinic’s location posted to Facebook. The joining of cold and hot air masses in the wrong way can instantly cause unspeakable loss. Natural disasters like the two tornadoes that hit Lee County could happen to anyone, anywhere. Whenever a disaster happens, but especially in tight-knit communities like Lee County, everyone’s hearts go out to those affected, in the form of prayers but also in the form of compassionate action to help the survivors as they carry on. In a Facebook post March 4, 2019, the hospital issued a response to numerous questions on how to contribute to relief efforts. “[We] are helping to facilitate support for those who lost most, if not everything, by collecting funds through our EAMC Foundation. As of [March 15, 2019], they had received 144 donations totaling $231,608,” Atkinson said. “This includes the money given by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and Demarcus Ware for the funerals and grave markers.
People wishing to donate can visit eamcfoundation.org.” The effective response of the organization was in large part the result of the determination and compassion of those working at EAMC. “I couldn’t be any prouder of our paramedics and EMTs who played such a critical role in the field that definitely saved lives. Also, in the Emergency Department, our nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners, MCTs, and registration reps all demonstrated such calm, compassion and outstanding clinical skills necessary to care for the large
amount of injured who quickly surged into the department,” said the late Sharon Gess, former director of the Emergency Department and the Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Department. EAMC’s rapid response to the tornado was also the result of long-term disaster preparedness planning. Randy Causey, EAMC’s director of Support Services and safety officer, explained that process. “A few years ago, I realized our emergency management team needed to grow, and subsequently, I included representation
from every department in the organization. Each department must plan their individual objectives and I plan the drills around their objectives,” Causey said. “The directors and managers have moved into the role of drill planners and I serve to develop and facilitate each drill. We have drilled for tornadoes on many occasions and also tested the need for opening multiple outpatient departments to serve as alternate care sites.” For more information or to donate, visit www. eamcfoundation8686. thankyou4caring.org/lee-county.
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President Trump Visits
Observer Staff — March 2019 Winston counties. Photo by Robert Noles Federal funding was also available on a costresident Donald sharing basis for hazard Trump declared that a mitigation measures major disaster existed statewide. in Alabama, and ordered Pete Gaynor, acting Federal assistance to administrator of FEMA, supplement state and local Department of Homeland recovery efforts in the areas Security, named Gerard affected by severe storms M. Stolar as the federal and tornadoes from Feb. 19 coordinating officer for to March 20, 2019. federal recovery operations Federal funding was in the affected areas. available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms, straightline winds, tornadoes and flooding in Cherokee, Colbert, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Lamar, Madison, Marion, Morgan and
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President Trump, First Lady Meet with Victim’s Families, Volunteers Observer Staff ~ March 2019
resident Donald Trump and First Lady Melania traveled to Lee County on March 8 to tour the devastation caused by Sunday’s tornadoes. The Trumps arrived via Marine One this morning at the Auburn University Regional Airport. They shook hands with a delegation that included Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Sen. Doug Jones, Adjutant Gen. Sheryl Gordon, AEMA director Brian Hastings, Sheriff Jay Jones, Lee County Commission Chairman Judge Bill English and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller. In caravan-like fashion, the Trumps, staffers and media in attendance traveled into the heart of the Beauregard community, which was hardest hit by the EF-4 tornado. Along with Lee County Emergency Management Agency director Kathy Carson, the president evaluated the damage on Lee Road 38, which he described as horrendous. “Well, I saw this [devastation] from the air and it’s hard to believe actually. Kathy has done an incredible job and Governor Ivey has done an incredible job and we really appreciate what they’ve done [during this time],” the president said. There, he also spoke with the
Photo by Michelle Key
family of Marshall Lynn Grimes, who was one of the 23 individuals who lost their lives during the storms. The next stop was at Beauregard’s Providence Baptist Church, which has operated as a recovery operations center this week. Other dignitaries were present, including Housing and Urban Development secretary Ben Carson, Ivey, Sen. Richard Shelby and Congressman Mike Rogers. Before meeting with volunteers inside the church’s sanctuary, the president spoke to Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland about the
damage his city received. Raucous cheers greeted the Trumps as they entered the sanctuary. For nearly 15 minutes, the Trumps signed autographs and spoke to the gathered crowd, even posing for photographs. As they were leaving, amidst the chanting of “USA, USA!” by the crowd, the president offered a final piece of encouragement to those helping lead the community’s recovery efforts. “We love you all and thank you all. We love the state of Alabama,” the president said. State dignitaries expressed their
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gratitude for the president’s visit and expedition with the FEMA emergency declaration process. “It’s wonderful that the President and the First lady would come and show the importance of standing up to help fellow Alabamians and Americans. It shows the importance of everybody getting strong and helping these folks,” Ivey said. Prior to the president’s arrival, Senator Jones spoke of his tour of the damage in Smiths Station yesterday, praising the efforts of first responders and volunteers through difficult circumstances. “I’d like to show my support for the president coming down here, expediting that emergency declaration the way that he did. When you can show support for a community, you need to go all out as best you can,” Jones said. “We can talk about different things in our history and heritage, but when you boil it down, what sets Alabama apart is how we treat each other in times of need. People are always there for each other. This is not Republicans versus Democrats, not black or white, no Christian or Muslim, they’re just Alabamians. That’s what we do best.” Lee County Strong | 44
Photos by Morgan Bryce and Michelle Key
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Lee County Strong | 46
Photos by Morgan Bryce and Michelle Key
Photo by Morgan Bryce
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The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. ~ Coretta Scott King
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EAMC Launches ‘mend’ Program to Coordinate Lee County Disaster Recovery Relief Efforts Kelly Daniel - April 2019 Photo submitted by Laura Eason
ore than five weeks after the devastating March 3 storm, East Alabama Medical Center continues to provide support for tornado survivors while developing the mend program to coordinate disaster relief efforts. Origins of ‘mend’ During a press conference held by EAMC leadership on April 2, Chaplain Laura Eason, the director of Pastoral Services at East Alabama Medical Center, explained that the mend program began in the first days after the storm as an attempt to work with community organizations to fulfill immediate needs. However, these initial efforts revealed the need for a massive, coordinated response to help the families and communities in the weeks to come. “After three days it had morphed into a much, much larger organization,” Eason said. While tornadoes cause tremendous destruction in moments, recovery is a long process that requires an enormous level of support from the community, government and charitable
organizations. “The tornado changed all these lives and families in just a few short minutes on that day, said EAMC PR and Marketing Director John Atkinson. “It’s not an overnight fix, and it’s going to take a while to return to some normalcy.” The mend program contains elements that experts consider crucial to successful disaster recovery: plentiful resources, a coordinated approach and longterm vision. Providing for Those Affected by the Lee County Tornado Limited resources often decrease the effectiveness of civic organizations in providing aid, as was found in a study titled “From Disaster Response to Community Recovery” by Dr. Daniel Sledge and Dr. Herschel Thomas, which was published last April in the American Journal of Public Health. However, the generous outpourings of supplies, financial assistance and volunteers in the month after the storm have demonstrated that Lee County did not have problems with rallying community support. Dennis Thrasher, who serves as Vice President and Controller at EAMC, stated that in addition to the $184,000 from the Poarch Creek Indian Tribe and the $10,000
sent by Demarcus Ware, $89,000 had been donated to the Lee County Disaster Relief Fund from other sources. Additional large donations quickly flooded in the weeks and months that followed. While other communities with fewer resources struggle with finding sources of supplies, financial resources and human capital, the primary need in Lee County was to ensure that recovery activities were organized and effective. “We saw that there was a need for a coordinated community wide effort,” Eason said. “And we saw that it was so important to not duplicate efforts and to make sure that the actual needs were being fulfilled.” The Role of Coordination in Ensuring Effective Response EAMC responded to that need by creating an organizational structure to coordinate recovery efforts, which was named the mend program. “Our mission is basically fivefold: compassion, communication, cooperation, collaboration and coordination,” Eason said. ‘mend’ was created to bring together different types of organizations that can provide various forms of assistance into
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committees, each of which operates under the direction of the steering committee. Coordination is vital to ensuring an effective recovery process, according to disaster recovery experts. One of the key points stressed in the EAMC press conference on April 2, 2019, was that mend will provide long term leadership and coordination in a recovery process that will span years. “mend’s overall mission is to ensure that all who were affected by the tragedy and the disaster are able to recovery physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s going to be a marathon, it’s not a sprint. We’re just beginning the process,” Eason said. Disaster recovery experts have found that a long-term, thoughtful approach is essential to helping
communities rebuild in the long term. Opdyke and the other researchers in the Construction Management study found that disaster recovery efforts often become disconnected when coordinating organizations do not stay long-term. “The departure of key organizations, even ones that do not appear central, can have a profound impact on continued communication, and potentially, the long-term resilience and sustainability of the recovery effort,” Opdyke and the other researchers stated in the article. The History of EAMC and the EAMC Foundation in Disaster Recovery As an organization that has been involved in disaster recovery regionally and nationally while also engaging in humanitarian work internationally, EAMC knows the
challenges of such work very well. EAMC Vice President of Human Resources Susan Johnston said, “We have a long history of [helping in disaster recovery] from Katrina to the floods in Houston to Hurricanes in Orlando where our hospital has sent funds from our own disaster relief fund to help our employees’ family members who were affected, as well as other healthcare workers across the Southeast.” However, before the March 3 tornadoes, EAMC had helped from a distance by sending teams of people, supplies, and money to other places. As Johnston later said, “This is the first time it’s really affected us, right here and right at home.” Providing a Place to Stay Soon after learning of the extent of the tornado damage, EAMC
anticipated that one of the main immediate needs of survivors would be finding a place to stay that is more permanent than a hotel room. As a result, EAMC began to lease apartments in the community to take care of employees affected. “We are currently housing 15 families in 17 apartments. [ As of Feb. 2020, 28 families were provided housing.] Those apartments are fully furnished. That furniture is theirs when they leave because remember, these families have nothing,” Johnston said. “When they are finally able to be placed in a home they will be able to take everything with them that we furnished the apartments with.” While 11 of these families are related to EAMC employees, four of the families are not connected to EAMC.
Support Groups Still Meet Every Month, Facilitate Friendships ‘mend’ Support Groups: In order to build an alliance between survivors of the March 3 tornadoes, support groups were provided to address the physical and emotional results of this devastating experience. Initially, there were separate groups for children, teens and adults. Professional counselors were available to guide the groups and serve as a resource for more in-depth interventions. The groups were designed to allow the participants to verbalize their feelings regarding the losses they suffered and the frustrations they experienced in recovery. Additionally, neighbors were bonded by their shared experiences. Friendships formed among people who were unknown to one another prior to the storm. They shared tears, frustration, coping strategies and most importantly, love. The teen and child groups were ended when school opened in August of 2019. At that time, a counselor was meeting individu-
ally with students through the schools. Therefore, there was no need for these groups. The adult groups continue to meet about twice a month. The notices of the meetings are published through the Beauregard Strong Facebook page. ‘mend’ Call Center: Early in the recovery process it was recognized that a central call center that provided one number should be available. The call center served as a clearinghouse for needs of survivors and offers of volunteer service and supplies. East Alabama Medical Center provided the phone lines and space necessary for this service to be launched. The phones were manned by volunteers. The first calls were received on March 22nd. The service continues. The mend Call Center Number 334-528-mend  was advertised in news articles, websites and billboards. As of January 20, 2020, 1,165 calls have been answered and processed.
Serenity Community Counseling, LLC
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Hope, Healing and Blessings Jenny Filush-Glaze - March 2020
hen my phone started popping up with more texts than I could keep up with, I knew in my heart that something bad had just happened. And with each passing moment, it only got worse, and this community was ultimately changed forever. Most of us will never forget where we were that day, and for the families that experienced it firsthand, it has been seared upon their hearts like a brand, scarring deep and leaving multiple marks. Initially there was confusion, which ultimately led to unbelievable heartbreak as people began to understand the severity of what had happened here. As shock began to wear off, the mass outpouring of support from emergency personnel and local neighbors began to take shape, and it was awe-inspiring to witness. Crisis specialists arrived from all over the states and even they had never seen a community this organized and focused on “picking up the wreckage.” In fact, they mentioned it several times, and the pride in this community blossomed as things like “Beauregard Strong” and “Lee County Strong” showed up front and center on every major news network around the world. As a grief counselor, I had the honor and privilege to be called in to help support the families and the first responders. From those first few raw and emotional moments at Providence Baptist
Church all the way to now, the one year anniversary of March 03, 2019, I have been blessed with the opportunity to walk alongside families as they continue to grieve and heal. What started out as crisis intervention soon became a commitment by Lee County Schools to hire me for the better part of a year, thus recognizing the importance of the severity of what had happened and understanding that there was not going to be a “simple fix.” I want to give a shout out to the Superintendent, administrators, principals and the board of education for having the wherewithal to meet almost immediately to develop a “Plan of Action” for supporting their schools, staff and students. They recognized how impactful this event was for the community, and they wished to provide a safe and supportive environment for everyone within their districts. Every year, money is earmarked for “mental health” counseling, but this was the first year they developed a “grief support” contract, thus assuring their families that they would “not be forgotten” and that there would continue to be people available to help them process all they had lost. When I say that it has blessed me tremendously to be a part of the lives affected by these tornadoes, it is clearly an understatement. To know their experiences and innermost feelings, to listen as they share anguish and pain and to
watch them as some semblance of hope returns to their eyes has been the greatest blessing. Grief support is unique. It recognizes that even though death is normal, it changes you, and it creates many obstacles along the path as you continue to move forward. Lee County Schools deserves recognition for their role in the healing journey of their families. Without them and their dedication to provide ongoing assistance to those in their district, it would be easy to “sweep things under the rug” and “carry on” as though nothing ever happened. With grief, that occurs a lot; attention is given in the beginning, but then, like everything else, people “move on,” especially for those who were not directly impacted by that unforgettable day. Now, almost one year later, anxiety fills the hearts of many as March 3 approaches. From post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] symptoms to heart-wrenching imagery replayed on televisions everywhere, this is a community filled with people whose lives are forever changed. They do not seek attention, and most would tell you they don’t even consider themselves “lucky” to have survived it. It is just something that now lives within them. Grief doesn’t stop after a year passes; in fact for some, it becomes a little bit harder. However, what they all know and are able to express is that healing is happening within a community that is stronger together, and “Surviving” has taken on an entirely new meaning.
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Illinois Man Gifts 23 Hand-Crafted Crosses To Beauregard Community Morgan Bryce - March 2019 Photo by Robert Noles
n Illinois man gifted 23 hand-crafted wooden crosses to the Beauregard community as a way of commemorating and honoring the lives lost during Sunday’s tornadoes. Aurora resident Greg Zanis, founder of the nonprofit Crosses for Losses, made the more than 12-hour drive and arrived in Beauregard, distributing the crosses to family members and friends of the victims. One of those family members was Rosalind Tolbert, who lost seven relatives during the storms. Living only a few minutes away from one of the most affected areas, she said she is still processing the events of the last 72 hours and what it will mean for the community moving forward. “I’m going to miss seeing the kids play [out there]. Looking at everything, it just seems so
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different … it looks like somebody shredded our neighborhood and made confetti out of everything,” Tolbert said. Since 1997, Zanis and his team have placed more than 27,000 white wooden crosses and other memorials for the public and the families of crime victims as well as accident victims. In December 2019, Zanis announced that it was time for him to retire. Crosses for Losses was turned over to Lutheran Charities. Zanis plans to help train those who will be stepping up to carry on his work. For more information about the organization, visit www.crossesforlosses.net.
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Poarch Band of Creek Indians Gave $184,000 to Benefit Lee County Tornado Relief Fund
March 2019 Photo submitted to Opelika Observer
ot long after the storm, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris received word that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Poarch wanted to help cover the funeral costs for the tornado
victims. Harris made contact with them and their first commitment was for $50,000. Later in the week, they spoke with Harris again, and asked what it would take to cover the costs of the funerals for all 23 tornado victims who were killed on March 3, 2019. Harris gave them a number, and they made the decision to donate
905 S. Railroad Ave. Opelika, Alabama
the full amount. The donation totals $184,000, and was deposited with the East Alabama Medical Center Foundation and was dispersed to the funeral homes to cover the cost of the funerals. â€œI am so thankful for them to step up in this manner and help the families of this tragedy,â€? Harris said in a press release.
Community Foundation of East Miracle-Ear of Alabama Creates ‘Recovery Fund’ Auburn Replaces n order to help those affected, entities serve the needs of the Lost Hearing Aids Lee County residents who were the Community Foundation of East Alabama [CFEA], affected by this disaster. for Those Affected Contributions may be made Inc. has established a Lee County on the Community Foundation Tornado Recovery Fund. by Storm of East Alabama website www. The recovery fund has been
set up for donors seeking an official conduit to contribute monetarily to the recovery effort. The Community Foundation of East Alabama will receive, hold and disperse monies contributed to this fund in a manner deemed appropriate by the CFEA Board of Directors with input from the Lee County Emergency Management Agency and members of a Tornado Recovery Committee. All distributions will help local
cfeastalabama.org or by mail to: Community Foundation of East Alabama P. O. Box 165 Opelika, Alabama 36803-0165. Please make checks payable to the CFEA for LCTRF. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by the law. For additional information, contact Barbara Patton at 334-744-1020 or email info@ cfeastalabama.org.
MAX Credit Union Gave $5,000 to Benefit CFEA’s Lee County Tornado Recovery Fund
he Opelika branch of MAX Credit Union presented a $5,000 check to members of the Community Foundation of East Alabama March 14 for its Lee County Tornado Recovery Fund. On March 3, two tornadoes struck Lee County, causing 23 fatalities and severe damage in
portions of Lee County including Beauregard, Salem and Smiths Station. The check presentation took place during the Opelika Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours program at the financial institution’s Opelika location.
Geraldine Reese, pictured right with consultant Brittney Ziemba, was just one recipient of replacement hearing aids and also the recipient of a $10,000 check from Mary and Rick Frasier who are board members of the Miracle Ear Foundation.
Miracle-Ear of Auburn
1888 Ogletree Road, Suite 160, Auburn, AL 36830 •  403-5935
iracle-Ear of Auburn, in conjunction with the MiracleEar Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that provides hearing assistance to individuals in need, provided hearing aids to individuals that lost their hearing aids or that were in need of hearing services due to the storm. The foundation waived applicable fees and the Auburn store committed to finding replacement hearing solutions at no cost to members of the community as needed. Proof of residency in the affected area was requested in order to receive hearing aids. The Miracle-Ear Foundation put into effect a policy that will replace anyone’s hearing aids if they are part of a natural disaster. We couldn’t be more proud to have been a small part of that change that has gone on to help so many more people than just those affected by the tornado. “We are deeply saddened by the loss that has impacted so many members of the local community,” said store owner Tim Toomey, “and we want to extend our hand in support to those individuals that are in their time of need.” The store, which is located at 1888 Ogletree Road in Auburn, is an active and proud participant in the MiracleEar Foundation. Auburn’s Miracle-Ear location is registered as an official vendor for disaster relief services through EMA.
Local Church District Raises More Than $10,000 For Tornado Relief June 2019 Photo submitted to Opelika Observer
n the immediate aftermath of the horrific tornado that brought incomprehensible destruction to homes, disruption of lives and even death to those in its path, some clergy of the Ninth District African Methodist Episcopal [AME] Church were among the “boots on the ground” ministering to those who were left in shock and awe. Pastors Debbie Dowdell, Willie Lyles, Mattie Edwards, Joe Benton, Monique Summers, Loretta Fuller and many others were there giving aid and comfort at “ground zero.” “First, we offered prayer and comfort,” Dowdell said. “Then, I left to go pull good clothes off the racks of my closets to share with those who lost everything.” Elsewhere, Pastors Kendra Jacobs and Dr. Clementine Warren were organizing and conducting prayer vigils. Just days later, the resident Bishop of Alabama for the AME Church, Bishop Harry L. Seawright, journeyed from Birmingham to meet with area clergy and laity, for prayer and a first-hand look at the work of rapid responders. “So often there is a rush to meet needs from the very outset of a natural disaster,” Seawright said after his visit. “However, in the waning days after that, there are always those whose unmet needs are an ongoing challenge. The Ninth District will return at a later
date. We will purposefully seek to serve those who will have ‘fallen through the cracks.’ Furthermore, we will seek to fill any voids in the efforts of nonprofits that are continuing to service unfulfilled need.” On May 25, several area AME Clergy, along with presiding elders Rev. Samuel Smith and Dr. Letitia Williams-Watford, met at St. Paul AME Church in Opelika to present tangible gifts in of $10,500 to two area nonprofits and to several individuals whom local pastors identified as having a continued need for relief. Chaplain Laura Eason, East Alabama Medical Center Foundation, received funds earmarked for the mend project. These funds [helped] provide cabinetry for 12 homes that [were] built from the ground up in the Beauregard area by the Fuller Center for Housing. A representative of Mayor F. L. “Bubba” Copeland of
Smiths Station received funds to be administered by the city’s Disaster Relief Fund. These nonprofit grantees were recommended to Seawright by Benton, Lyles and Fuller. Pastor Mattie Edwards of Lee Chapel AME in Auburn summed up the thoughts of the individual recipients when she said that anyone experiencing the degree of devastation as these have cannot be reminded too often that the church is here for them. “I am so happy the AME Church is here to represent the presence of God for some who in such trying times may need to feel God’s presence the most,” Edwards said. The small gathering opened with prayer. The gathering closed with prayer, but not before survivors representing nine families, each the recipient of a $500 cash grant, lent their voices in an exuberant rendition of “Every Praise is to Our God!”
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‘Cycle for Service’ Benefitted Alabama Rural Ministry May 2019 Photos submitted by Lisa Pierce
wo months after the deadly tornado struck Alabama, a team of six cyclists trekked across Alabama for two and a half days, logging more than 245 miles and raising $9,000. From May 3 through 5, they cycled for two reasons. First was to raise funds being used for repairing homes for people whose were damaged in the recent tornado. Second, it was to raise awareness about the chronic housing needs in some of the poorest areas of the state including Lee, Macon and Sumter counties where Alabama Rural Ministry [ARM] serves. Their ride covered 85, 96 and 56 miles respectively for three days. A “spin class” at Moore’s Mill Fitness Club had three members log 245 miles during the course of six weeks. The 10th Cycle of Service benefited ARM, a home-repair
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and housing ministry based in Opelika and working through the Black Belt of Alabama. Most of the households ARM serves are led by the elderly, disabled or single parents who live on limited or fixed incomes. ARM also provides repair for our veterans” said ARM’s Executive Director Lisa Pierce. ARM worked with the United Methodist Committee on Relief
[UMCOR] to also provide recovery assistance to tornado survivors through helping repair homes and hosting volunteer work groups. Funds raised from the ride were applied to the cost of purchasing the construction materials the organization used in repairing homes for 60 families. This includes homes hit by the tornado, such as the Frazer family and others with chronic home repair needs like Mrs. Middlebrooks who needs, a new roof on her home. Her husband had a severe physical disability preventing him from working and Middlebrooks is the sole source of income for her family. The cyclists enjoyed riding so they can help her. Cyclists rode for five to eight hours a day. The ride began in Cuba, Alabama and traversed through Selma, Montgomery, Tuskegee and finally the 14th Street Bridge in Phenix City at the Chattahoochee River. The riders stayed overnight in churches that also supported rest stops and meals.
With your help, we donated over
to America Red Cross disaster relief after the tornado.
for letting us be a part of your community ... weâ€™re in this together.
1441 Foxrun Pkwy., Opelika, AL 36801
Auburn Resident Kaitlyn Willing Runs ‘Tornado Relief Clothing Bus’ Morgan Bryce -June 2019 Photo submitted by Kaitlyn Willing
or out-of-style clothing from the back of our closets. A standard was set. We would not accept just any clothing,” Willing said. “We would ince March 2019, thousands only accept the best, gently-loved of articles of clothes and items or brand new items with tags. countless smiles and words I want these women and children to feel special because that it is what of encouragement have been they deserve.” distributed to tornado survivors in On the first day of operation, Beauregard through the Tornado Relief Clothing Bus. Willing took the bus to arguably the hardest-hit portion of Lee County, In the days after the March 3 along Lee Road 38 in Beauregard. tornadoes hit, Auburn resident Witnessing the devastation firstKaitlyn Willing felt spiritually hand, she said she realized that she compelled to “fire up” an unused boutique bus sitting in her back yard was brought there for a purpose. and use it to distribute clothing to “I began to realize this bus became women and children who had lost much more than I ever intended it to be. With a background scenery everything they owned. of pure devastation right outside “I knew Lee County could do the windows, the interior of the bus better than donating old t-shirts
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transformed into something quite opposite,” Willing said. “Women were smiling, laughing even while trying on clothing…for a moment, they were able to escape the pure tragedy that surrounded them.” Each weekend through July 7 Willing took the bus back to Lee Road 38, building and strengthening relationships with each person who boards the bus and shops through her selection. Willing and her husband Aaron’s generosity to the Beauregard community was recently reciprocated. Frequent trips back and forth between their home and Beauregard took its toll on the bus, causing it to eventually break down. However, through the generosity of several individuals in Beauregard,
the broken part was replaced, a moment Willing said she will never forget. “ …I posted on the Beauregard Strong Facebook page about it, sharing the sad news and inquiring if anyone knew of a cost-effective tow company or diesel mechanic. The amount of support we received from the very community we were serving brought me to tears,” Willing remembered. “Within a couple of weeks, a few men from the community ordered the parts our bus needed and fixed it for us… at no cost. I just could not believe their generosity. They did not know us and we did not know them, yet the very people we were serving came to our rescue.” After completing their mission, the Willings plan to transform the bus into a baby/maternity boutique for Kaitlyn’s employer “Baby Steps,” a nonprofit organization that “empowers women at Auburn University to have their education
and their babies by providing housing, support and community.” “Along with many others, I have been forever changed by the March 3rd tornadoes. Although I did not lose anything, what I have gained from this experience is immeasurable,” Kaitlyn added. “I have witnessed the Lee County
community rally around one another in a season of such trial and devastation and bring comfort and hope to ones whom are hurting. This is what life is about. Its not about much we can individually achieve, rather loving one another as [Jesus] Christ has loved us and sacrificing when others are in need.”
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Prom Dresses Donated to Beauregard, Smiths Station Students by the TLC Program Morgan Bryce -April 2019 Photos submitted to Opelika Observer
n the days after two tornadoes ripped through portions of Beauregard and Smiths Station, Opelika resident Amanda Lux thought about the students whose prom dresses might have been lost in the storms. “One of my first thoughts afterward was ‘what are these girls going to do?’ This is such a milestone event in their lives and they’re possibly not even going to go or settle for a dress that was used or they weren’t in love with,” Lux said. Reaching out to representatives of TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” program via email, Lux requested that they set up a pop-up store in the area for girls to select brand-new dresses for their respective proms. Because of timing issues and the inability to push back both schools’ proms, TLC representatives told Lux they would ship dresses directly to Beauregard High School. When the dresses arrived, Lux said she was in shock as she absorbed the generosity of the program’s donation. “They sent a ton of dresses … there were four huge boxes with five to seven dresses per size with size options ranging from zero to 26. They are name brand, very high-end dresses,” Lux said. On Thursday afternoon, Lux delivered a number of dresses for girls at Smiths Station High School. With Beauregard and Smiths Station holding their proms on Friday and Saturday, respectively, Lux said she hoped the dresses helped add to the specialness of the occasion. “It was a horrible thing that happened to our area, and these girls deserved a good night to enjoy their nice dresses and feel wonderful. I hope that it made them feel beautiful and special,” Lux said. Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station | 65
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Benefit Concert For Tornado Survivors Held Last March March 2019
ueman Collective, Sylvia Rose Novak and Due South Artist Management hosted a relief festival to benefit the victims of the tornadoes that impacted Lee County. The festival was held on Sunday, March 31, at three different locations in downtown Opelika from noon to 5:30 p.m. Locations that were hosting live music from local bands and musicians included The Railyard Music Venue, 10,000 Hz Records and Red Clay Brewing Company. The listing of performers included Novak, B.B. Palmer, Larry Mitchell and Brett McDaniel among others. Separate from the live music, the festival also hosted food trucks. All proceeds from ticket sales for the festival were directly donated to tornado victims. In addition, a percentage of sales from participating businesses, including Red Clay, 10,000 Hz and Due South Artist Management were also donated. Children under 12 years old were admitted for free.
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Tristan Long Hosted Benefit Concert Last April For Recovery Efforts By Tyler Roush - April 2019 Photo submitted to Opelika Observer
s a lifetime resident of Beauregard, Tristan Long wanted to give back to his community. Following the tornados that hit his hometown in early March, Long coordinated a Lee County Tornado Victim Benefit Concert that will donate all of its proceeds to the Providence Baptist Church disaster relief fund. The event was held on April 14 at the Bottling Plant Event Center on 614 N. Railroad Ave. in Opelika. For Long, who said that he had family that was affected by the tornadoes, the event allowed him to provide much-needed help for his community. After his sister came up with the idea of someone running a concert to benefit the victims of the tornado, Long decided to move forward. “It just feels good to me because I’ve grown up in Beauregard,” Long said. “I know of a lot of the people who were affected.” Acoustic bands played through three different rounds before the main event. Performers who were listed to play were Murphy Elmore, Blane Rudd, Tyler Braden and Jonboy Storey, among others. In addition to live music, the concert also featured food provided by Chicken Salad Chick and a concurrent silent auction. After recognizing the struggle
that his family, his friends and his community went through, Long said that he [was] happy to have the opportunity to provide support. “It hit close to home,” Long said. “Being able to help out, it just means a lot to give back to the community.”
‘Vocals For Locals’ Concert Benefitted CFEA’s Tornado Relief Fund
Morgan Bryce - June 2019
ottonseed Studios held a benefit concert for the Community Foundation of East Alabama’s Tornado Recovery Fund July 13 from 8 to 11 p.m. at The Railyard in downtown Opelika. “Vocals for Locals” featured food from Drive-By Tacos and Wilton’s Catering available for purchase, and there was an evening full of live music from some of the area’s best musicians.
Following is the list of artists and bands that performed during the event: -Adam Hood -Brent Cobb -Brett McDaniels -BB Palmer -Chris Posey -Dallas Dorsey -Davis Nix -LNLY WLVS -Mark True -Sylvia Rose Novak.
According to Cottonseed Studios Owner Richard Patton, “thanks to the generosity of all that are involved, 100% of all proceeds [went] towards continued relief in our community through the [foundation].” More than $5,448 was raised and donated to the community. For more information, follow the Vocals for Locals Facebook event page or visit www. cottonseedstudios.com.
Beauregard High School Band
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Photos by Robert Noles
Smiths Station High School Band
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July 2019 Photos submitted by Laura Eason
n a continuing effort to assist residents affected by the March 3 tornadoes, mend hosted a tornado relief benefit from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 13 called “mend the Heart” at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Arts at Auburn University. During the event, there was a live and silent auction, with the silent auction offering paintings, pottery and other art, while the live auction had unique athletic items and opportunities up for bid. Hors d’oeuvres were served and a cash bar was available. “We’re very excited about this event,” said EAMC Chaplain and mend Chairperson Laura Eason. “The idea for this actually began just a few days after the tornado when someone brought in three pieces of art they had just painted based on the happenings in the community. From that humble beginning, this has turned into a community-wide event with all of the resources needed to host the event being donated. That will allow 100% of the funds raised to be used for the rebuilding effort in Lee Lee County Strong | 73
County.” In addition to the silent auction and live auction opportunities, attendees had the opportunity to donate specific building materials for each home being built. “This will be similar to a wedding registry where you can choose the gift level that works for you and know specifically how you are helping,” Eason added. “For example, you could donate $25 for a box of nails that will be used on a specific house, or $500 for doors at another house.” The “mend the Heart” event featured live music by Muse. Following is a list of sponsors that made the event possible: Food vendors: • Acre • Amsterdam Café • Arriccia • Hamilton’s • Lucy’s • Terra Cotta Catering • The Depot • The Hound and • Ursula’s Catering Other vendors: • Linens were provided by Outdoor Rentals of Columbus • Live music was provided by Muse • Museum use by Auburn University • Tents and tables were provided by The Tailgate Guys.
“ Someone once said that the strength and character of a people can be measured by how they respond when faced with adversity and tragedy. If so, then it is clear that we don’t need to wonder about Lee County. The darkness that March 2019 brought gave way to the light of countless examples of neighbors doing all they could to help and comfort each other. Resilience, determination and compassion demonstrated time and again by our family, friends, neighbors and even strangers. Makes one proud to live here. I certainly feel that way and I’m sure there are more than just a few who feel the same way. ” ~ Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones
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KAYLA GRIMES Beauregard Community Embraces Kayla
Auburn Chason ~ March 2019
he Lee County community waited eagerly last March for the homecoming of tornado survivor Kayla Grimes. Kayla, 11, was home with her father, soon-to-be stepmother and best friend Taylor Thornton when the tornado touched down, and she was the sole survivor of the group. Grimes garnered several injuries, which led to three different surgeries at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. During this time
Kayla’s mother and stepfather, Michelle and Adam Gladden, primarily cared for her at her side. However, back home in Beauregard, a slew of supporters came to her aid as well. Friends and family banded together to create a homecoming for Kayla that the whole community could be a part of. Angela Kirkland, a nurse at East Alabama Medical Center, and Rita and Megan Harman worked together to spread the word via social media that Kayla and her
parents would be traveling back from Birmingham Friday afternoon, and their request was simple. “We want to line her driveway/ road as she’s pulling in!” Megan wrote on Facebook. But what began as a gathering at Kayla’s home turned into a parade fit for royalty as she entered Lee County. The route included stops at Beauregard High School and Providence Baptist Church before arriving home. At the high school, they picked up a trail of escorts, including members
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from the police department and other first responders who worked directly with Kayla. Workers at the Providence Baptist Church associated with Billy Graham and Samaritan’s Purse presented her with a Bible in memory of her lost loved ones. “Kayla’s testimony is important. All the victims’ testimonies are equally important. Kayla holds a special place in my heart because I know what a blessed fighter she is, and I recognize the long road ahead of her,” nurse Angela Kirkland said. Kirkland did not previously know the family, but she responded to Kayla’s injuries when she arrived to the hospital and was moved by her story, doing everything she could to make Kayla’s homecoming a special event. Before the family arrived home,
volunteers and extended family members clad in blue T-shirts carried in food and drinks for Kayla and her family, offering to cook meals, telling jokes and occasionally tearing up at the thought of their “Kayla-Bug” returning home. They were excited, murmuring to each other of her character. “She is so strong, and you will never catch her without a smile on her face,” said Kayla’s aunt, Melissa Smith. Friends and strangers alike lined up along Lee Road 119 to welcome Kayla home and cheered for a spirit of recovery, not just for Kayla, but for all of Lee County. Balloons had been attached to her mailbox, and signs were held up in support. Upon arriving home, where a new wheelchair ramp had been assembled and where her family
and friends waited for her, Kayla and her parents smiled and cried at the outpouring of love. “She needs to know that we will be here for her as she goes forward wit her physical and emotional recovery,” Jackie Moran, a member of the community who did not previously know Kayla, said after tying balloons to the mailbox. Several members of the party helped Kayla out of the car she arrived in and into a wheelchair and then, in the midst of everyone looking on this brave little girl, she requested a trip to Waffle House. Her light-hearted spirit in this time can only be reflective of what is to come from the community. Like Kayla, Lee County will recover from this dark time and come out on the other side stronger and full of love.
‘A Father’s Voice Matters’ Held Benefit Carwash for Kayla Grimes Morgan Bryce -April 2019
embers of A Father’s Voice Matters held a car wash April 19 at the Auburn AutoZone store to benefit Beauregard’s Kayla Grimes. Kayla survived a direct hit from the EF-3 tornado that devastated Beauregard on March 3, but lost her father, soon-to-be stepmother and best friend Taylor Thornton. A Father’s Voice Matters founder Churmell Mitchell said he was inspired to organize this event for Kayla following a recent dinner with her and her extended family. “She’s just a great kid. Even though she’s been through a lot, she’s able to laugh and smile and Lee County Strong | 76
you can’t help but have a good time around her,” Mitchell said. All proceeds from the car wash were donated to Grimes’s family to help them cover costs and expenses, part of his group’s effort to “stand in the gap and bless Kayla and her family through acts of kindness.” Mitchell is working with local businesses to organize a benefit for Thornton’s family in the near future. The car wash will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at AutoZone, which is located at 1054 Opelika Road. About A Father’s Voice Matters Mitchell, a single father of two children, founded A Father’s Voice Matters last fall after identifying
the community’s need for men in “every stage of life to boldly step into who God has designed them to be as men, husbands, fathers, coworkers and friends” and “create a safe place for men to connect and encourage one another.” For more information, like and follow the organization’s Facebook page.
Community Events Boosted Spirits, Raised Funds for Kayla’s Medical Needs Morgan Bryce -June 2019 Photos by Churmell Mitchell Game Changer Photography
itizens of Beauregard and Lee County came together to participate in two events benefiting 11-year-old Kayla Grimes, who was severely injured during the March 3 tornado. Following is a description of both events with details on how people can be involved. • July 17 – “Cards for Kayla” Organized by Beauregard resident Melissa Smith, Cards for Kayla was an opportunity for the community to wish Grimes well as she celebrated her birthday on July 17. In the Facebook event’s description, Smith wrote that Grimes “really enjoyed” receiving cards and letters of encouragement. • July 20 – “Karing 4 Kayla” Salem resident Alicia McLeod organized a carnival-type fundraiser on July 20 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Lee County Fairgrounds to help cover Grimes’s medical expenses. Admission to the event was free. Activities slated to take place during the event include arts and crafts for children, dog show, face painting, live entertainment, motorcycle run and more. Nearly $9,000 was raised during this event.
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Photos by Game Changer Photography
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Beauregard Strong Lee County Strong Our thoughts and prayers remain with all of those affected by the tornadoes. 3797 Alabama Highway 169 Opelika, AL 334 - 742 - 0607 â€˘ www.goreesfurniture.com Lee County Strong | 80
‘Love Lee Day’ Held May 18 Morgan Bryce ~ May 2019 Photos by Robert Noles
roceeds from the inaugural “Love Lee Day” May 18 at the Opelika Sportsplex benefited East Alabama Medical Center’s ‘mend’ program and up to 12 Beauregard children affected by the March 3 tornadoes that passed through Lee County. According to Amy Walters, one of the event’s organizers, the event was a way for the community to gather for a fun-filled, family-friendly event and strengthen its bonds. “Our goal through all of this is to bring the community together. We want people in Beauregard and Smiths Station to know that we stand behind them as a county and that we will be with them as they go through the process of recovery and restoration of what was lost,” Walters said. “Another important aspect is that we Lee County Strong | 82
want people, especially tornado victims, to have a fun day and step away from the chaos and be able to enjoy themselves.” The event was “hosted” by Walter’s organization “Beauregard Birthdays,” which was working to provide gifts or necessary items to children who were affected or displaced by the storms. Included in that day’s festivities were entertainment, food and music. Classic rock cover group 8-Track Rewind performed, and there were appearances from Auburn University mascot Aubie and Disney princesses. There was a dunk tank, inflatables and a Nerf Gun battle area. Food trucks from Crepe Myrtle Cafe, Kona Ice and Philly Connection provided
food and refreshments. A silent auction featuring more than 30 special items donated by local businesses was also held during the event, a solution “to help them find a way to be involved and give back to tornado relief efforts,” according to Walters. Event admission was free, but donations for both Beauregard Birthdays and ‘mend’ [the hospital’s newly formed disaster coordination group] were accepted throughout the event.
Dedicated at Sanford Middle School September 2019 Photos submitted
ocal artist Rachel Wright and nearly 50 Beauregard and Lee County residents came together last Thursday night to celebrate the dedication of the “Beauregard Angel Wings” art installation at Sanford Middle School. During an interview with the Observer in May, Wright said she was inspired to create a piece of artwork that the community could help create after meeting with March 3 tornado survivors and family members of the 23 storm victims. “I wanted to do something that was beautiful and all-encompassing, as well as something that people affected by the storm could participate in. Then [one of the victim’s family members] talked about ‘their angel,’ and it just clicked for me right there,” Wright said. Throughout the summer, Wright said more than 300 individuals hand-painted feathers that comprise the piece. A candlelight vigil was held in addition to the
dedication during Thursday’s ceremony. With the school serving essentially as a “ground zero” for tornado recovery and relief, Wright said the light, paired with the art piece, helped shine a light in a place that saw so much darkness earlier this year. “We did a candlelit vigil and had a moment of silence after calling out each person’s name. It was very uplifting and of course, emotional,” Wright said. “Everyone was so thankful for the wings and the light.” Wright said she hopes the piece is both an inspiration and a reminder for future Sanford students of a tragedy that brought the community together in a way that has never been seen before. “Children who were in the tornado walk those halls [including Kayla Grimes and Jordan Griffin]. Having them see their artwork for their parents and brother and friends and for the whole community to show them that we all will never forget and we can make beauty for them in those halls is important,” Wright said.
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Together we Stand On March 3, 2019, the unthinkable happened when tornados ripped through the communities of Beauregard and Smiths Station leaving devastation and unimaginable loss as twenty-three of our fellow citizens lost their lives.
Live, Work, Play
Despite the horrific events of the day, heroic stories emerged from the aftermath as neighbors, community members and First Responders selflessly came together to search and lend support to all those affected by the tornados. The Lee County Commission would like to thank all those who have worked tirelessly to rebuild a shattered community. While we hope to never experience such a devastating event again, we know that should it occur we will recover because together we can accomplish anything.
We will now and forever be...
Lee County STRONG
Flag Found, Donated To Lee County
Morgan Bryce -April 2019 Photo by Robert Noles
ee County’s Veterans Resource Officer Jamie Popwell presented a flag to the Lee County Commission during Monday night’s meeting. The flag was found in the immediate aftermath of the March 3 tornadoes and efforts to find the owner were unsuccessful. A framed sign underneath the flag read “This flag was found by rescuers buried in debris along Highway 51 near Lee Road 38 in the aftermath of Lee County’s worst natural disaster on record. A devastating EF-4 tornado that claimed the lives of 23 people on March 3, 2019. This symbol is dedicated to them, Lee County Strong.”
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Indiana Resident Carves Tree To Honor Toughness Of Beauregard Community April 2019 Photo by Robert Noles
ndiana native and woodcarver Jason Emmons is donating a carved tree stump to Beauregard residents with the message “B Strong” as a way to commemorate the community’s toughness in the aftermath of the March 3 tornadoes.
Set up at Price’s Small Engines in Opelika on Friday, Emmons put the finishing touches on the stump and raffled off other woodworking pieces, with proceeds being donated to Providence Baptist Church. After observing the devastation caused by a 2005 tornado in nearby Evansville, Indiana, he said he was moved to give something to a community that lost 23 of its own
during the deadly storms. “Anybody that needs a little reminder or little pick-me-up, hopefully this will do that for them,” Emmons said. One final feature that will be added at a later date is a plaque honoring those who lost their lives. For more information on Emmons’ business, visit www. bearhollowwoodcarvers.com.
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It was great to see our community come together and serve each other to help on some of our darkest days. Continued support and prayers for those affected by the storms.
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BUILDING HEALTHY FAMILIES Lee County Strong | 88
Beauregard Native Wayne Robinson Determined To ‘Move On’ After Storms Morgan Bryce -Jan. 2020 Photos by Robert Noles
ayne Robinson and his cousin Curvin were spending time together and enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon in a shed outside Robinson's house at Lee Road 36 on March 3, 2019. The two had discussed the threat of severe weather earlier in the weekend, but neither expected anything more than rain, let alone a tornado. However, as the afternoon moved along, the skies darkened and winds intensified. Wayne's sister Maggie, a longtime nurse at East Alabama Medical Center, came outside to inform him that severe weather was on its way. He insisted that she go back inside and that he and Curvin would wait out the storm in the shed.
Minutes later, unusual noises nearby caught Wayne's ear. Stepping out of the shed, he caught the sights and sounds of an approaching EF-4 packing wind speeds of up to 170 miles per hour. "Once I stepped out the door, things started changing right then. I heard the sound of trees cracking across the road ... which sounded like twigs being snapped," Wayne said. "It had just creeped up on us quick, and the next thing you know, it just started getting worse and worse and worse." In a span of time that Wayne described as feeling like "30 minutes or more," the tornado passed through, leveling their home and decimating their shed. He and Curvin were tossed several yards away in the blink of an eye. Moments after the storm passed, Wayne began processing what he
was seeing. Bodies of several relatives all around him. Debris. The sight was pure chaos, and the place that he had called home his entire life was entirely destroyed in a matter of seconds. Walking through a once wooded area, Wayne found the body of his sister Maggie and stayed by her side until first responders arrived. He and Curvin were both injured but alive, and both family dogs Rock and Smokey survived the storm. Wayne sustained a head wound that required staples and further injured his “already gimpy leg.” After a night at the hospital, Wayne was released. Within three days, he received word that he would be a receiving a new home, courtesy of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center. Waves of volunteers flooded
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Wayne's neighborhood and began helping him clean up his yard while construction started on his new home. A smile of remembrance crept on his face when he recalled interactions that he had with those volunteers. "I really didn't know how many friends I had until then. I remember meeting a guy from a cold place up North, and we sat and talked a while," Wayne said. "He brought his backhoe with him and helped clear trees until he got to a point where it was too wet." On May 9, EAMC and Chattahoochee Fuller Center representatives came together to hold home-dedication ceremonies for Wayne and other individuals and families. An ardent Alabama fan, he was gifted with a signed football and picture from Coach Nick Saban and his wife Terry,
which is now under a protective glass display on a coffee table in his living room. The last year has been a roller coaster of emotions for Wayne, particularly the holiday season. Coping with his loss has involved
relying on his faith and paying regular visits to his family's gravesites. "I just think of them like they're still here. I'll stand there for 30 to 40 minutes and just talk to them, it's like a regular conversation," Wayne said. Another part of the healing phase is restoring the property back to its former glory. Despite having a 60-hour workweek and long commute to work, Wayne has already found time to plant several trees near a pond on the back end of the property and is planning to cultivate a spot to install a flower garden in the spring. "I miss all my folks, especially Maggie, and right now I'm just trying to move on. I ain't forgotten about them but I can't hold my head down and wish this or wish that ... I gotta focus on what's happening now," Wayne said.
Community members, we’re here for you. Please always remember Isaiah 41:10
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
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Lee County Tornado Stories, Experiences By Philip Shucet - March/April 2019
hile an especially hungry and angry tornado chewed into homes along Lee Road 100 Alina Smith and her two daughters huddled for safety in the bathroom. Then the funnel moved to Lee Road 36. When I met her on March 6, Alina told me that she held her daughters, said her prayers, was at peace and accepted that it was time for them “to go.” But we don’t pick our time. Alina and her daughters were spared that day. Twenty-three others were not. On Lee Road 36, Alina’s then boyfriend, Curvin Robinson, scrambled from the yard and made it to a shed [with his cousin Wayne] before he hit the floor and curled in a fetal position in front of a refrigerator. Curvin would find out that of the 23 dead, seven were from the same family. His family. What do you say to someone who peacefully looks in your eyes and tells you that death scooped away seven members of his family 48 hours earlier? I did not know then. I don’t know now. Relying on information from news
reports, I navigated Lee County roads to Smith’s Station and Beauregard, both hard-hit by the tornadoes. Sheriff ’s deputies from Lee and Calhoun counties were pulling double duty to block roads leading to the most heavily damaged areas. I respected those restrictions, realizing that searches were still underway for missing persons. On roads that were not blocked, the powerful force of destruction was evident. Force, that in an instant turned a peaceful pre-Lent Sunday into devastation and death. Force that lifted and smashed a trailer into trees as if the home had been a blowing leaf in a spring-like wind. Why did I go to Alabama? Truth is, I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted to bear witness. Maybe I wanted to see things I had never seen before. Maybe I needed to be reminded of just how small I am. Maybe I needed to see just how strong other people are. Or maybe I wanted to know that there is more good in the hearts of women and men than we are led to believe. I wanted to know that humanity prevails. It does. I went back to Alabama to see Alina, Curvin and others at Easter; a time for resurrection and
www.philipshucetphotography.com Lee County Strong | 92
rebirth. A time to record the next chapter of their story. I’ve come to realize that there is nothing more powerful than an individual’s story. We are born into a story. And every day afterward we create and shape new ones. Your story doesn’t just live in your head and heart. It is your skin. Nothing is more powerful than your story. About the Author: Shucet retired last year after wrapping up 45 years in corporate America. He has a searing passion for photographing people and telling their stories. He currently lives in Norfolk, Virginia. Publisher’s Note: Mr. Shucet approached the Observer with the offer to share his photographs and the stories he collected through talking to those deeply affected by the March 3 tornadoes. He believes that these stories need to be told not only now, but also later as he returns to check in with people and see how they are doing. He has graciously asked us to be the outlet for these stories and it is our privilege and honor to do so.
Survivors Share with Photographer “I’ve come to realize that there is nothing more powerful than an individual’s story.”
found Billy and Jane Capps at breakfast about 36 hours after their family home was destroyed by the March tornado. Like many other survivors they were put up at the Fairfield Inn on Interstate Drive in Opelika. The Capps were away on March 3. Their son broke the news to them by phone. The home built by Billy's grandfather more than 100 years ago - the Capps family homestead - was still standing. But just barely. The winds that ripped across Lee Road 100 tore away the Capps' new master bedroom and a good portion of the back of the house. The front porch, with the Capps "Welcome" sign intact, leaned to the left of and away from the house. It tipped precariously, but held on to give the Capps time to
clear what could be saved. Naturally, Billy was bothered to see his family home taken by the tornado. But Jane, his son and Billy were safe. Billy's concern the day I met him was for the families that had lost relatives. He rattled off the names of a few local roads, like Lee Road 36, and told me how hard they had been hit and how concerned he was for the families along those roads. Billy told me about a backroad into his property and invited me to come out the next day to see the damage up close. As I pulled up the next morning, I could see Jane standing in the shell that used to be their bedroom. Billy was inside sorting through belongings, deciding what might be salvaged.
I asked Billy about the future. He told me how painful it was to lose the house. But what was done was done. Billy and Jane were going to move, most likely into Opelika.
Pictured above: Cappsâ€™ twisted and leaning front porch Pictured left: The Capps homestead from Lee Co. Rd. 100 was left in shambles after the tornado roared through their yard. Pictured above is a view of their backyard not long after the storm. Pictured right: Billy Capps
For Alina Smith, acts of kindness sustain her. “I really didn’t have to figure a whole lot out, because somebody was right there.” But the memory of the past and uncertainty of the future are still a strain.
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Pain and sorrow are packaged and managed in deeply personal ways. Of the twenty-three dead, seven were members of Curvin Robinson’s family. “I’m still getting up every day, coming down here [to his destroyed home] to work. Same thing I was doing before the storm hit.” Then a silent pause as he looks away. “I’ll go drive trucks for a while and get back to freedom. Gardening and planting. It’s all about freedom.”
A good bit changed in the two months since the storm. Roads are open now. Scattered debris has been replaced with some order. Sheriff departments have returned to their regular beats. Kids are back in school. The drumbeat of business is back to a steady rhythm. The news has settled down to daily life in Opelika and Lee County. Some things haven’t changed. Twenty-three souls are still gone. Taken by the wind.
— Philip Shucet
Upon the barren landscape left behind after the storm, a new home is being built. A clear reminder that the people of Lee County are survivors. They are strong and do not quit. They go on. Lee County Strong | 98
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I have been a lifelong resident of Lee County with family and friends sprinkled throughout the community. I have spent my life building a reputation of giving a good days work for a good days pay, striving to maintain good health, healthy habits, and quality relationships. My crew and I have the knowledge and ability to assess your needs and deliver service in an efficient and cost effective manner.
“God never takes away something from your life without replacing it with something better.” ― Billy Graham
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Dorothy Wilborn Blessed in Midst of Destruction
Beauregard Man Shares Story of Surviving Tornado Robert Noles - March 2019
s the tornado approached Lorenzo’s property, he was outside feeding his chickens. He felt the wind pick up and looked over and saw the tornado. He ran to his pickup truck and jumped in, but the wind grabbed the door and prevented him from closing it. Lorenzo laid down in the truck, and rode out the storm. His truck battered by the winds and debris, was slammed against other debris and came to a stop against a fence post. When he exited the truck and looked around, he realized that the storm had demolished both his mother’s home that she had lived in up until her death a few months ago and his daughter’s house. “I am blessed,” Lorenzo said as he glanced back at the damage left behind. “I’ve never felt anything like that wind before,” he said.
“I’ve never felt anything like that wind before…”
Robert Noles - March 2019
orothy Wilborn lost her home to the storm but managed to escape with only minor cuts from broken glass. She was home with family members when the storm hit. As Wilborn, her son and daughterin-law huddled in the hallway, the EF-4 tornado stripped away the roof from her brick house leaving the interior exposed to the rain and cold. She said her family is there and she will be ok with them. Wilborn’s family was able to salvage some pieces of her furniture and other belongings. “You have got to live it, so that you know how strong and dangerous it is,” Wilborn said about surviving the storm. “We just prayed,” Wilborn said.
“You have got to live it, so that you know how strong and dangerous it is…” Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station | 101
www.byrdeyeinvestigations.com 334 - 332 - 8283 Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” -Martin Luther King Jr. There is so much truth in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words. Although there are many who were not directly affected by the tragedy that struck our community, I think it is safe to say that everyone, even at a national level, felt the impact. The community we live in came together and was not only able to face the adversity that presented itself, but was able to triumph over it. I am so proud to be a part of such a strong and courageous community. Through adversity often comes inspiration. “Tell God Thank You” was what she said. Through these words came inspiration that touched the nation, and in some aspects the world. Earnestine Reese was captured on video , covered in blankets, just being pulled from the rubble of her demolished home, thanking God for her and her family’s survival of the tornado that caused so much devastation to her community. She gave inspiration to so many by saying those four words. She and her family have known me since I was a child and they have always been a blessing to me. However, It was at that moment, they blessed the world. This is dedicated to Earnestine Reese and the entire Reese family - “Tell God Thank You”. Love Always, Clemon Byrd of Byrd Eye Investigations
Clemon Byrd Alabama Licensed Private Investigator #502 Byrd Eye Investigations is dedicated to providing the State of Alabama with the best of quality background check services. Owner Clemon Byrd is an Auburn native who graduated from Auburn High School in 1995. He has a degree in Criminal Justice from Faulkner University. He served with the Auburn Police Division for 15 years and is familiar with the importance of having detailed and correct information on personnel with which one may work with or encounter. Byrd Eye Investigations looks forward to providing all of your background check needs and services.
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Grandmother’s Prayer Closet Survives Storm
Robert Noles - Dec. 2019
espite losing everything in the deadly March 3 tornadoes, Beauregard resident Earnestine Reese thanked God. Her story made national headlines when the only room left standing was her prayer closet. Several months later, Reese is again thanking God, this time for her new home rebuilt by Samaritan’s Purse. In December , the North Carolina-based organization handed over the keys, welcoming her home for Christmas. Reese’s new home con-
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tains three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a safe room with concrete, steel-reinforced walls, but most importantly—a prayer closet. “When Ms. Reese lost everything, she thanked God,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “As soon as I heard her story, I knew we had to help. Samaritan’s Purse [was] excited to welcome Ms. Reese home just in time for Christmas.” In addition to rebuilding Reese’s home, Samaritan’s Purse replaced 13 manufactured homes and installed 11 storm shelters in Lee County.
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The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.Â Psalm 29:11
We were devastated - we cried - we mourned - we rallied Little by little - hug by hug - brick by brick - we rebuilt Our community is a family.Â As a family our lives are forever blessed by those we lost on March 3, 2019 As a family we are forever stronger by the new bonds that were built
Alone we are strong...together we are stronger
LeeCounty Forever in our hearts. 3.3.19
Eleven Homes, One Week: Chattahoochee Fuller Center Provides Hope to Lee County Natalie Anderson ~ Jan. 2020
im Roberts of The Chattahoochee Fuller Center vividly remembers March 3, 2019, recalling how she and her staff were in their offices watching that day’s storms roll through Lee County and were left wondering how they could help. Taking supplies to Providence Baptist Church a week later, Roberts said she had no idea that the Fuller Center would take the lead in helping coordinate rebuilding efforts in the community. Roberts has been with the organization for more than 10 years, which prides itself on “building affordable housing [for low-income families] and changing neighborhoods” in the Greater Valley Area and normally constructs a maximum of four homes per year. In the past, they have worked with East Alabama Medical Center’s Cornerstone Foundation to construct two homes for hospital employees in need. At the end of March, EAMC’s reliefcoordinating group mend invited Roberts and her team to attend a meeting at Lanier Hospital to discuss the devastation in Lee County and how their organization could help restore some normalcy in the lives of those affected by the storm. “We were all sitting there and the question was “can you build three homes next month?” Roberts said. “It was like the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘this is what you do and they need you.’ The project went from the original three homes to an outstanding 18 homes [including 11 in one week].” Nearly a year later, Roberts said her organization and mend have an ongoing relationship. She added that mend “pulled in everybody and made a huge team” which provided Lee County with a “great amount of help [that] has been amazing.”
“We didn’t know subcontractors when we came down here ... we’d never worked in this area and you gotta have plumbers, electricians and sheetrockers,” Roberts said. “We hit the floor running and one lead led to another, and before you knew it, we had the majority of our subs from the local Lee County area. Everyone wanted to be involved with the rebuilding process.” From Sept. 29 to Oct. 4, the Fuller Center and other organizations helped construct 11 homes in one week. The Hallmark Channel contacted Roberts, immediately asked how they could help and contributed the funds to build three homes. Lunch was provided by local vendors in the Lee County area for the entire week, catering to an astounding 320 people, which Roberts said “was just a blessing.” On top of building 18 homes, there were also 16 sets of walls constructed. During the reconstruction process, Roberts stayed with her stepfather who resides in Opelika. She expressed gratitude for being able to temporarily stay in the area, making it easier for the entire rebuilding project by not having to drive back and forth to the Greater Valley Area and deal with the time-zone change. During that week, work days spanned from 12 to 15 hours. “It was emotional, we cried a lot. We laughed a lot,” Roberts said. “We didn’t sleep a lot… we have never built that many homes, it was a God thing, God was just written all over it.” When asked to describe a heartwarming moment that Roberts carries with her in her everyday life, she told the story of the Yarbrough family and their little boy, Oscar. “As the Chattahoochee Fuller Center and our volunteers continued to come and work on a daily basis, Oscar
warmed up to us and would excitedly yell ‘Kim!’ Robin!’ as we drove up to begin our day,” Roberts said. Learning of Oscar’s love for the alphabet, Roberts and her team had local artist Rachel Wright paint the boy’s room to include the ABC’s. “The home meant something to him and it definitely touched my heart,” Roberts said. Since Roberts and the Fuller Center have returned back to their home base, they have continued to work on projects such as their “Reuse” store, which was left in the hands of their “amazing” volunteers during their time in Lee County. The Chattahoochee Fuller Center has also recently completed two projects known as “Greater Blessings” where they repair bathrooms. Last Christmas, the Fuller Center was able to provide 50 bicycles to children in need thanks to a generous donation from Good360. Roberts said her organization is “always busy, always doing something, always giving, which is what they love being able to do.” During the last meeting of 2018 for the Chattahoochee Fuller Center, Roberts said she remembers everyone agreeing that in 2019, they would not build any homes and focus purely on the Reuse Store. “Well guess what,” Roberts questioned. “God had bigger plans.” Looking back at their accomplishments in Lee County, Roberts said she feels like her organization made a lasting impact in Lee County that will be felt for generations to come. “What I really take away is just how people come together in Lee County,” Roberts said. “It was overwhelming to us, the relationships that we were able to form down here.”
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Supporting our friends and neighbors as they recover from these difficult times.
Justin Smith CPA Public LeeCertiied County Strong | 106Accountant
Royal House Of Klass Dance Studio Opens In Memory Of Cousins Mykala Waldon and Jonathan Bowen Morgan Bryce – July 2019 Photo by Robert Noles
ink lettering and a silhouette of a young girl pirouetting adorn the dark blue painted walls of Opelika’s Royal House of Klass Dance Studio, which held open tryouts last weekend. These colors and the “K” in the business name hold significant meaning for Studio Owner Tyesha Hart and her cousin Shamel, who each lost a child during the March 3 tornadoes. “My 11-year-old daughter Mykala loved to dance and the color pink. Her cousin Jonathan loved royal blue … and when I was thinking about how to do this, I knew that I wanted to find some way to honor them, and the paint and ‘K’ in the studio name is a small way of doing that,” Tyesha said. Tyesha added that the cousins were close. While Jonathan, nine, preferred playing video games, he would attend Mykala’s dance practices and performances and “enjoyed cheering her on.” The March 3 tornadoes not only claimed lives from the Hart family, but destroyed all of Tyesha’s earthly possessions. Instead of focusing on her grief and loss, she said she focused on what her next step would be, which eventually led to opening her own dance studio. In July, Tyesha said she learned that the space at 300 Columbus Parkway that once housed Elite Champagne Divas Dance Studio was available. After a quick tour, she immediately gathered the necessary funding to close on a rental deal for the space.
With assistance from Shamel and family, the studio’s interior was quickly transformed into the space that Tyesha had envisioned. Drawing some of the area’s best dance instructors together, one of the studio’s primary focuses will be its competitive dance team for children ages five to 19 known as the “Royal Diamonds of Klass.” There will be zumba and other fitness classes for children, plus dance programs for adults in the near future. Previously a stay-at-home mom, this marks Tyesha’s first smallbusiness venture, which will be supported by Shamel and the building owner. While the studio may acknowledge the memory of their late children, both Shamel and Tyesha said they want it to provide
a positive outlet for local youth and be a source of hope in their lives. “Honoring Jonathan the way [Tyesha] has, means a lot to me. I believe [the studio] is going to make a big difference and impact on the lives of children here,” Shamel said. “We want this to be something for kids in our area. A lot of kids want to dance but have nowhere to go,” Tyesha added. “This is giving the parents an opportunity to get their kids involved and active.” Summer class schedules will fluctuate, but the studio will be open Monday through Friday in the fall from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. during non-competition weeks and will remain open an additional 30 minutes during competition weeks. For more information, call Shamel at 334-408-8647.
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Saint James the Great Anglican Church
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Smiths Station Rebuilds After Storm Photo by Robert Noles More than 30 homes were damaged in Smiths Station according to Mayor F.L. Bubba Copeland. As of February 2020, all of these homes have been either repaired or rebuilt. Pictured left: Neighbors and local volunteers come together to repair a roof that was damaged.
City of Smiths Station Gifted ‘Remembrance Quilt’
Submitted Feb. 2020
n Jan. 24, members of the Phenix City-based GALA Quilter’s Guild of Phenix City donated a quilt to the city of Smiths Station in honor and remembrance of those who were deeply affected by last year’s storms. The presentation took place inside the council chambers of the Smiths Station Government Center, with
Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland serving as the city’s official representative. Juanita Christian addressed Copeland and shared with those gathered why her group decided to create and gift the quilt to the city. “As residents, we were so pleased how everybody came together after the events of March 3. This quilt is designed as a way to recognize those survivors and hang here inside City Hall as a remembrance of that day,”
Christian said. Along with the quilt that Christian presented Copeland was a plaque with the inscription: “In Appreciation of All First Responders, Government Officials and Volunteers For Handling emergencies with uncompromised competence and integrity, Having a steady voice in the storm, Using courage and compassion, Providing such a meaningful service to the citizens of Beauregard and Smiths Station, Alabama.” “This quilt is so symbolic to me. I’m sure others will too,” Copeland said. “The quilt [and plaque] will be given a prominent place in our City Hall to serve as a reminder of that day for many more years to come.” The quilt and plaque are hanging on a wall inside the main lobby of the Smiths Station Government Center, which is located at 2336 Lee Road 430. It can be viewed during regular business hours between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. To learn more about the quilter’s guild, visit www.galaquiltguild.com.
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Burroughs Rebuild After Surviving Storms Ann Cipperly and Morgan Bryce Photo submitted by Burroughs
n the afternoon of March 3, Robert and Sandi Burroughs were planning on relaxing at home and watching movies with their daughter, Ellie. Suddenly, the alarms went off on their phones, warning of dangerous weather for the Lee Road 40 area. Robert, a post commander at ALEA’s Alexander City and Opelika field offices, stepped outside with Sandi to see if they could see the storm. “It looked clear, but we could hear [the tornado] and seemed like it was blowing away from us. Then, what felt like two seconds later, a tree fell on his patrol car and we looked at each other and said, ‘we need to go to the closet,’” Sandi said. In a rush, they grabbed their daughter with her puppy on the way to their bedroom closet, praying as they made their way. The storm hit quickly, shaking the house and taking the roof off, then pulling Robert out. As the house was being lifted and coming apart, Sandi was praying as all the clothes in the closet fell on her and Ellie, surrounding them. Suddenly, they were pulled away and thrown 260 feet. Sandi pushed a wall off and removed a wall covering Ellie. They were covered in insulation, but miraculously alright except for cuts and bruises. They searched for Robert for nearly 10 minutes. He was unconscious and trapped under Lee County Strong | 110
metal beams covered in glass. Their house and everything in it was gone, as well as the houses that had been around them. “There was nothing recognizable left. There wasn’t any debris either ... it was like our house and our neighbor’s houses had just been swept away,” Sandi recalled. When first responders arrived, Robert was taken to EAMC where he stayed in ICU for a week, with no memory of what happened or arriving at the hospital. Sandi and Ellie were released from the hospital that evening but stayed with him during his recovery process. “The staff at EAMC are amazing. We were the second family there after the storm passed, and got seen right away,” Sandi said. “Then, people began flooding in, but they seemed equipped and ready for that moment.” While 10-year-old Ellie didn’t have serious injuries, the horrendous experience has left lingering effects. Ellie is a fifth grader at Samford Elementary School. “They are prepared for these kids that went through all of this,” Sandi said. “We have been in touch with the counselors. The school system has been amazing to all of us.” After Robert was released from the hospital, the Burroughs stayed with his brother for nearly a week. They were then approached by Julie and Tim McGowin, who had purchased a house they were going to remodel to rent and offered it to them. They lived there for a month and discussed whether they would
rebuild on nearby property or look for a new house. Following prayer and evaluation, the Burroughs found a house on Lee Road 483 that met their needs and possessed a sense of home - something they hadn’t felt in months. “It just spoke to us the first time we walked through the door, and we instantly knew that this was the house for us,” Robert said. Closing on the house in May, they were soon gifted with the
donation of an in-ground tornado shelter from Wayne Rogers of East Alabama Safe Storm Shelters. Others who provided assistance to the couple included EAMC’s mend organization, Red Cross and Robert’s State Troopers colleagues. Sandi, a hair stylist at Chic Salon and Boutique in Auburn, was out of work for two weeks and then worked half days for another couple of weeks. Robert returned in a fulltime capacity to his job in June. Time has healed some of the scars and terrifying memories from March 3. Robert said it has been a slow but steady journey toward feeling a renewed sense of normalcy in their lives. “A big, big step for us was moving in here and realizing that this was home now. Going through some of the holidays and birthdays, maybe and hopefully we’ll get to a point where we feel we’ve replaced everything,” Robert said. Robert added that most of their
material items lost in the storm have been replaced, but a needed item will come up missing on occasion. “We were going to have some people over for dinner one night not too long after we moved in, and I wanted to pepper poppers, but I was missing my pepper corer,” Robert said laughingly. As Sandi looked at the debris in the woods that was once their home, she was grateful her family was alive. She was sad for the loss of photos of their children. While everything was
in pieces, someone found Sandi’s grandmother’s blue and white platter. It had survived the tornado. Both Robert and Sandi said they are excited for what the future holds for them, and are grateful to have survived at the hands of a storm that showed no remorse or regard for human life. “All I can say is that we’re very thankful and realize how blessed we are because there were so many people who didn’t survive,” Sandi said. “We’re very, very blessed.”
2023 Pepperell Pkwy. ~ Opelika, Alabama 334-749-6357 ~ Waynesgatewaytireandautomotive.com
Church Of Christ Disaster Relief Team Offers Hope to Community
Photos by Robert Noles
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â€œWhat we do best allows you to do what you do best.â€?
These little guys once helped me get a new start after a life changing event. We at NewStart would like to extend any help we can to our Beauregard neighbors as they rebuild and try to get a new start.
If we can help with tax returns, getting lost paperwork, or just by helping businesses get back on their feet, please contact us. 334-246-1164
email@example.com Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station |
POWERING LEE COUNTY, POWERING THE WORLD. Every day, all over the world, people count on Briggs & Stratton to get work done. From rice fields to playing fields, from front yards to back roads, our diverse portfolio of brands and products help people make their lawns and homes look beautiful, provide security and peace of mind to families and businesses during a power outage, and light up the night on oil fields and job sites. As we have expanded into new markets, products and technologies, one thing has stayed consistent since 1995: we call Lee County home and are proud to be part of the community.
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Troy Bell of Beauregard’s Bell Automotive, Rebuilds Business
Morgan Bryce ~ March 2019 Photo by Robert Noles
eauregard resident Troy Bell’s Sunday afternoon nap on March 3 was interrupted by the buzz of his cell phone, alerting him that severe weather was imminent. Scrambling to his television, Bell said he turned it on to reports of a tornado on the ground, headed in his direction. While attempting to gather his family and move them to a safe place, he stood on his back porch and observed the storm in the distance, a dark, hideous wedge of wind that would later be classified as EF-4 tornado nearly a mile in width and sustained winds of 170 miles per hour. “It was just a big, black monster. Most of the ones you see are skinny and have a narrow base, but this one was just wide and ugly,” Bell said. “You could see everything turning dark, but more than anything, you could hear it.” While closing his bathroom door, Bell witnessed the storm engulf the
building that housed his livelihood, an automotive shop next door that he has owned and operated at 2500 Lee Road 165 for the last 26 years. For the next 30 to 40 seconds, Bell said he and his family spent what felt like an eternity hearing the heart of the storm swirl above them. “That house was shaking, popping and cracking. We heard two loud slams against the side and I told my daughter, ‘that’s your trailer trying to climb on top of this house,’” Bell said. His daughter’s trailer remained mostly intact. Another nearby mobile home was still standing while a neighbor’s brick home was obliterated. The structure that housed Bell Automotive was nothing but a shell. Its roof was missing and a side wall had collapsed on top of his camper. “I was shocked when I saw what had happened, because that’s my livelihood and how I make a living right there. That building has survived hurricanes and straightline winds with only some minimal roof damage, nothing we
couldn’t handle … but we weren’t so fortunate this time,” Bell said. Utilizing a jacklift, Bell and others were able to lift the wall off of the camper and use its power as the area descended into complete darkness. The business’s next chapter seemed in doubt in the days after the storm, but longtime friend and fellow Beauregard resident Mark Hightower offered Bell a space to operate his business while he rebuilds. “One thing is for sure, I’m going to invest in a storm shelter to go with this new shop,” Bell said. While none of Bell’s family or friends were among the 23 casualties, he said the storm helped him realize how precious life is. “What I’ve been telling people is that every morning you wake up, it might be your day to go. Love your family and friends because you never know what might happen,” Bell said. Bell’s shop is located at 1617 Lee Road 166. For more information, call Bell at 334-740-0036.
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‘Restoring Normalcy’: Phillip and Chance Bell Rebuilding Home, Moving on With Lives Morgan Bryce~Feb. 2020 Photos by Robert Noles
ery fortunate, very thankful.” That phrase is at the forefront of Phillip “Fry” Bell’s mind when recalling the incidents of the March 3, 2019 tornado that claimed his home and came close to taking the life of his thenfiance, now-wife Chance. Nearly a year later, the couple are living in a single-wide trailer on family property until Phillip finishes constructing their new home, which is slated for completion by late spring or early summer. “Right now, our goal is to get back to normalcy as we knew it a year ago. This place is nice, but it’s just a start,” Phillip said. “The house will see us finish that journey toward a restored sense of normalcy.” Meant to be Phillip and Chance hail from Beauregard and are graduates of the community’s high school. While both grew up minutes apart on separate county roads, their paths didn’t cross until Chance’s freshman and Phillip’s senior years of high school, when the two met and dated briefly before drifting apart. Nearly a decade later, a Facebook friend request and follow-up message helped reunite the two. Prior to March 3, both Phillip and Chance had experienced their own share of hardships. As a child, Chance survived a horrific house fire, while Phillip successfully battled through two bouts of cancer in a two-year stretch shortly after completing an 8-year stint with the United States Marines. On Feb. 18, 2019, Phillip asked for Chance’s hand in marriage, slightly more than a year after they started dating. Little did the newly engaged couple know, however, how much their lives would flip upside down 13 days later. ‘Only a regular thunderstorm’ The afternoon of March 3 was a typiLee County Strong | 116
cal one for Phillip and Chance. Phillip, a nearly 12-year veteran of the Opelika Fire Department, was on-duty at Station 4 near Opelika High School, preparing and studying for a test in his paramedics training course. Chance was back home in Beauregard, resting before leaving for an evening shift in East Alabama Medical Center’s Mother-Baby Unit, where she has worked since 2016. While the forecast of severe weather had been ramping up significantly throughout the week, neither was expecting it to be an issue. “I guess we were all a little complacent and thought it would blow right around us. I remember telling [Chance] to not get out or run any errands until it was over,” Phillip said. Woken up from her afternoon nap by the sound of the increasingly powerful storm outside, Chance let their two dogs Buck and Magi inside before trying to go back to sleep. Minutes later, Chance fully woke up and left her bed, now realizing it was far more than an ordinary thunderstorm. Walking into her hallway, she saw sheer
panic in the eyes of her two canines, instantly realizing something was wrong. Then, the tornado made its presence known. “I fell down on top of the two of them, covering and holding them. It really hadn’t hit me yet that we were in the middle of the tornado,” Chance recalled. Things instantly went black around Chance and the two dogs, save for a tiny slit in the ceiling above flapping up and down to reveal a small crack of sunlight and illuminating pieces of insulation blowing around her like snowflakes in a blizzard. In that moment, Chance thought to call Phillip, attempting to yell over the noise around her and try to convey what was happening. For Phillip, the serenity of that afternoon soon evaporated into pure concern and panic. “It went from a calm afternoon to one where I thought I was listening to my [fiancee] die on the phone. I told everybody ‘I have to leave, I have to leave’ and asked them to call [Battalion Chief Todd Angel] and let him know that I had to go,” Phillip said. “I got in my little Jeep Wrangler and floored it all the way
there.â€? A happy reunion En route to Beauregard, Phillip had two calls with Chance disconnect before he arrived, with the last happening while the storm was still on top of her. While passing by Beauregard Volunteer Fire Department Station #2, sirens started blaring to announce the impending second tornado that was on its way. Arriving at the entrance to Lee Road 165, Phillip was forced to drive through the ditch of fallen trees and debris. With several neighbors standing outside, he warned them of the second tornado coming that was mirroring the path of the first. Pulling up, Phillip saw the devastation that the tornado inflicted upon his house, with the entire roof being blown away. The walls were still standing and the hallway where Chance had been was intact. Chance, however, was nowhere to be found. Unbeknownst to Phillip, his brotherin-law had come and rescued Chance from the damage and taken them to their parent's house nearby. It was there where the couple had their sweet reunion. "I remember my dad greeting me at the door and trying to give me a damage assessment and me asking, 'where's Chance?' I walked by people and made a beeline to Chance ... which was just a really great moment," Phillip said. Shortly after reuniting, however, Phillip began the process of picking up the pieces. On a call with his insurance agent, he filed a claim on the devastated property and was able to arrange tempo-
rary living accommodations at a nearby hotel. Both were given time off from their respective jobs to concentrate on beginning the recovery process. Phillip, along with several of his OFD colleagues and friends, started cleaning up the wreckage while Chance and her nurse friends began cleaning her grandfather's spare trailer and readying it to be lived in again. After two weeks, the couple relocated to the trailer. The return to normalcy Things began falling into place for Phillip and Chance as time passed on from March 3. The couple wedded last Halloween, which also happened to be Phillip's second full year of being cancer-free. The ceremony took place in front of an old oak on their family property that had been blown down by the storm.
"We wanted to keep it small and intimate, and we managed to do that for the most part," Chance said. "It was a wonderful day." After debating where they would live next, the Bells decided that they would rebuild. In his spare time, Phillip works with OFD colleague Travis Allen, whose father operates a building business out of nearby Camp Hill. Phillip's experience there gave him confidence that he could handle most of the aspects of constructing their new home, which will include a safe room designed to withstand a tornado. "My plan is to make this house as big as I can within the budget that I have. This blueprint is exactly what she handpicked out and I told her, 'you had to ride the tornado out, I just had to drive through it,'" Phillip said. "My heart goes out to her and I've been telling her anything you want, let me know. I'll only interject if I have to." While most aspects of their lives have returned to normal in the last few months, Chance said severe weather threats bring back unpleasant memories. "Anytime the weather gets bad or the wind starts blowing, especially living here in the trailer, I get nervous. I think that'll get better once we get to our new house ... but March 3 is a day I'll still never forget," Chance said. Because of the storms, honeymoon plans have been put on hold. Once they get settled and move into the home, the Bells said their next step as a married couple is to pursue having children and growing their family.
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Two Families Receive Homes from Samaritan’s Purse
Samaritan's Purse dedicated two new homes to the Hugley [pictured above] and Sims families last week in Beauregard. Both families lost their homes during the March 3 tornadoes, but all members survived. In addition to a new home, Samaritan's Purse gifted the families with a storm shelter to prepare for future severe weather.
Samaritan’s Purse donated a home to Smiths Station residents David and Eddie Ashcraft last year. Representatives from Alabama Rural Ministries and the American Red Cross of Lee County were also present. Samaritan’s Purse initially responded to the tornadoes in Lee County, Alabama with some 1,450 volunteers from across the country helping 110 families tarp roofs, clear storm debris, remove downed trees, and salvage personal belongings. About Samaritan’s Purse: Based in Boone, North Carolina, Samaritan’s Purse responds to physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations–especially in locations where few others are working. Led by President and CEO Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s Purse works in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, disaster, poverty, famine and persecution. For more information, visit SamaritansPurse.org. Lee County Strong | 118
Baker Family Receives New Home Last September
Robert Noles - Sept. 2019
any in the Beauregard area and Lee County stopped on Sept. 3 at 2:03 p.m. for 23 seconds of silence for the 23 individuals who died on March 3. It was also a special day for the Baker family that lives on Highway 80. On March 3, the tornado that traveled more than 70 miles started in their backyard in Macon County near the Lee-Macon County lines. Their mobile home was lifted up and slammed to the ground causing the mobile home to buckle and cause separation in the roof where rainwater ran down the walls. The Bakers’ home was the only one damaged in Macon County, leaving them unable to apply for assistance, so the Baker home was not eligible for federal assistance. As the water continued to run into the home from the damage received from the tornado, black mold began to grow, and the family started getting sick and having headaches. Misty Baker tried several means to receive assistance for home
is equipped with furniture and applirepairs, but no help was available. ances. Volunteers from First Baptist Misty, an employee at the Highway Church provided a meal for all at the 80 Barn Restaurant, was working dedication. With an amazed look on when Fuller Foundation worker Tifher face and tears of joy in her eyes, fany Tyson was there eating. Misty Misty said she was “so thankful and told Tiffany her story. Things began so blessed” to receive the new home. to happen and the Chattahoochee Roberts announced that the Fuller Fuller Center and mend, First Baptist Church of Columbus, Georgia, Kissin’ Center would be building 11 more 99.3 and News WRBL 3 came togeth- homes in September 2019. er to fund the project. The dedication came on the six-month anniversary of the tornado, and the Baker family received a new home. At the dedication, Pastor Jimmy Elder of First Baptist Church Columbus offered a prayer and presented a family Bible to Misty. Next, Kim Roberts from the Chattahoochee Fuller Center presented the house key to Elder who presented it to House Captain Tommy Hinton who opened the door for Misty and her two daughters, Kayleigh and Madison to see their new home, which Remembering Beauregard and Smiths Station | 119
Thank you to all the volunteers that are helping rebuild our community, one house at a time.
Alabama Representative Debbie Wood Lee County Strong | 120
Three Homes in Under Three Weeks Morgan Bryce ~ May 2019 Photos by Robert Noles
n less than three weeks’ time, three homes were built in areas of the Beauregard community hit the hardest by the March 3 tornadoes thanks to the efforts of volunteers and aid from two local “community-first” organizations. The project was a collaborative effort of the Chattahoochee Fuller Center Project and East Alabama Medical Center’s Cornerstone Foundation, marking the second occasion the two organizations have come together to provide shelter for those in need. “Our focus area is here in Lanett, Valley and West Point, and where we worked with the foundation previously. But, after seeing and hearing of the damage in the Beauregard community, we knew we had to go down there and do something to help,” said CFCP Executive Director Kim Roberts. In May 2019, the organizations
brought together local volunteers and athletes from Auburn University and the University of Alabama to construct the walls of the homes at Providence Baptist Church. The walls were later moved to the sites on Lee roads 36 and 166 where the homes were built. Cornerstone Foundation Manager Lisa Ruffin said each of the homes her organization is sponsored was built for individuals with ties to the hospital, including Wayne Robinson, the brother of EAMC
nurse Maggie Robinson, who lost her life during the March 3 storms. “The foundation was started in 1991 to assist an employee whose home was lost in a fire. And since then, it’s grown to be an organization that goes out into the community to help others,” Ruffin said. “It’s part of our DNA here at EAMC to help each other out in a time of trouble or crises.” For more information on the organizations, visit www. eacmfoundation.org and www. fullercenter.org.
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Photos by Robert Noles
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Photos by Robert Noles
Photos by Robert Noles
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Photos submitted by Clay Ogata
This home was built for the Wilson family
Servicing Lee County since 1954
THE GREATNESS OF A COMMUNITY IS MOST ACCURATELY MEASURED BY THE COMPASSIONATE ACTIONS OF ITS MEMBERS.
Lee County Strong - Remembering the victims & familes of 3.3.19
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As part of the Beauregard community, we were deeply saddened by destruction caused by the tornadoes last year. But we are proud to be a part of a community that came together in the time of need, showing the world how we are and forever will be
Lee County Strong.
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REJOICING IN HOPE, PERSEVERING IN TRIBULATION, DEVOTED TO PRAYER. ROMANS 12:12
We support our neighbors, friends and classmates in Beauregard.
Lee County Strong | 129
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Pastor Rusty Sowell Shares Experience, Says He’s Humbled by Community Response
Morgan Bryce ~ March 2019 Photo submitted to Opelika Observer
eflecting on the last 24 days, Rusty Sowell said he has seen the tragedy of the March 3 tornadoes be turned into an overwhelming positive, galvanizing the community, area and nation in ways beyond his imagination. “I like to say that what started as organized chaos has become chaos organized. Our community has been through hard times before, and we’ve seen it come together in glimpses,” Sowell said. “But this moment brought it all together to pass.” Lee County Strong | 130
Sowell said he and his wife Gina are fortunate to have avoided being on the list of the 23 lives claimed by the storm. Notified in advance of that day’s incoming severe weather by Beauregard Volunteer Fire Department Chief Michael Holden, Sowell said he and his staff decided to cancel that evening’s services and later open the church’s west campus as a storm shelter. Following that morning’s services, the Sowells returned home and spent the early afternoon keeping a vigilant eye on the weather. Later, with reports of a confirmed tornado on the ground, Sowell he said he knew
the storm was close once the walls of his log cabin-style home began to vibrate. “Passing my front door, I looked out and saw some good-sized trees flying across the yard. Once the vibrations started and got worse, I told my wife to get down and I started to get down too, wondering if the storm was about to cause my windows to explode,” Sowell said. As soon as it had come, the tornado had departed. Sowell soon walked outside to witness the devastation, with some neighbors losing barns and the roofs of their homes. Calls from church members began pouring in, but Sowell said his prior
FBI Honors Sowell By Morgan Bryce ~ Feb. 2020 Photo by Robert Noles
Rusty Sowell of Providence Baptist Church was presented with the FBI’s “Director’s Community Leadership Award” during a ceremony held Jan. 31 at the Lee County Justice Center. James Jewell, special agent in-charge of Mobile’s FBI Division, presented Sowell with the award in honor of his “outstanding service to the local community and his enduring contributions.” “I feel very overwhelmed and humbled, somewhat stunned,” Sowell said after receiving the award. “But really, in terms of response, it worked because we all came together. first responder experience and knowledge prompted him to stay home and out of the way of medical vehicles attempting to drive into the hardest-hit areas to find and save lives. The church’s west campus was immediately mobilized and opened as a recovery operations center shortly after the storm had passed. Stationed at Sanford Middle School, Sowell spent a good portion of that afternoon and evening in shock, processing what had happened to his beloved community. “I’ve been a hospital chaplain for 40 years, and when we’re called in, it’s typically a tragedy and a trip to the hospital’s emergency room or intensive care unit. As a former first responder, you never forget what you see, smell and feel, and I was thinking about what those guys were experiencing en masse,” Sowell said. Expected to climb to as high as 40 people, the final death toll was confirmed at 23 on the afternoon of March 4. Later in the week, Sowell, along with Lee County coroner Bill Harris, was tasked with meeting with the victim’s families to inform them of their loved one’s passing.
“They were hoping against hope, but we knew the reality of what was going on. When I thought about that moment, I just told myself to ‘breathe, breathe,’” Sowell said. “We tried to carry and possess true compassion, because there was
“They were hoping against hope, but we knew the reality of what was going on...” no making this situation okay or it’s going to get better. It was just a ministry of presence because we were identifying with them in the midst of their trauma.” On Wednesday, search-and-rescue efforts were moved to recovery. Emergency management nonprofits and organizations, as well as caring individuals from across the state, Southeast and country,
began pouring in to help. Two days later, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania visited the hardest-hit areas, and made a stop at the church. There, they meet with Sowell, victim’s families and Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland, whose city also received severe damage from the storms. “To have he and his wife come to our little corner of the world was big. It was no political show,” Sowell said. “You could tell from our initial conversation that he was deeply moved by what he saw out on the field as he met and talked with families [who experienced loss].” Sowell said he is “beyond humbled” by the outpouring of love and support that they have received during this process, including that of the Beauregard community itself. “Kids, students, football players, volleyball players, baseball, softball players were going out and willing to do things to help in whatever way they could. People brought food, their grills to help feed survivors, volunteers and first responders,” Sowell said. “It was just a beautiful picture.”
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Morgan Bryce ~ Nov. 2019 Photos by Robert Noles
hrough a recently launched initiative titled “Hometown Christmas,” the Hallmark Channel was able to bring a little dose of Christmas joy to the Beauregard community on Saturday. Part of a television special that will air later this year, the day started with a special luncheon for March 3 tornado survivors, first responders and volunteers from Beauregard and Smiths Station at Providence Baptist Church’s West Campus. That was followed by a special gathering inside the church’s sanctuary. Later that evening, guests and the Beauregard community were invited to attend a ceremony for the lighting of a 26-foot artificial tree. At the request of Hallmark officials, no photos or video from the event can be released until the program has aired in December. For more information, visit www. hallmarkdrama.com. On Nov. 9, Hallmark representatives filmed a Christmas special on the campus of Beauregard’s Providence Baptist Church for its “Project Christmas Joy” television special that aired on Dec. 10, 2019. Earlier this year, Hallmark announced it was funding the construction of homes for three Beauregard families to go along with the 15 built by the Chattahoochee Fuller Center. The reveal of those homes, along with the lighting of a 26-foot-tall Christmas tree and other surprises for survivors and their families, were also featured in the special. “Our wish for this holiday special is to bring some hope, joy and love to this inspirational community that has gone through so much,” Hallmark officials wrote in a post on the company’s website. Lee County Strong | 132
“Hometown Christmas: Project Christmas Joy”
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Preparing students for college, life, and eternity. Add a subheading
Lee-Scott Academy does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin in the administration of its admission policies or its academic, athletic, financial assistance, or other school programs.
This is an artistâ€™s depiction of a memorial that will be installed on the grounds of Providence Baptist Church. Lee County Strong | 136
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Our family, serving your family
Sincerely, Bill Trant, Coley Trant, Gene Ward, Allison Owens, Ginger Gray-Busby, Paul Kemp, David Phillips, Roger Hughes, Lee Smith, Linda Stewart, John McCollum, Bobby McBurney
We stand beside you Lee County. Lee County Strong | 138
Here at LoweĘźs we always want to be there be our community; Remembering because they are always here for us. Beauregard and Smiths Station | 139
H&S IS ALWAYS AT YOUR SERVICE WITH A FOCUS ON COMMUNITY AND SAFETY
216 S. 8th St. Opelika, AL 36801 334-528-0008 www.teamhs.net Lee County Strong | 140
This 140 page magazine is dedicated to the survivors of the March 3, 2019 tornado that claimed the lives of 23 individuals here in Lee Count...
Published on Mar 3, 2020
This 140 page magazine is dedicated to the survivors of the March 3, 2019 tornado that claimed the lives of 23 individuals here in Lee Count...