Editor's note: We have multiple staffers still reporting this story and updates are being provided as new details and information emerge.

This is Week 3 of coverage since the tornadoes struck on Sunday, March 3.

Update, 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 20:

Blood donations still accepted

The following press statement was released from LifeSouth:

"LifeSouth appreciates the outpouring of support from blood donors wanting to help the victims of tornadoes in East Alabama.

"The local hospital has the blood needed to treat patients. It is the blood donors who donate everyday who helped make sure the blood was there when it was needed.

"Blood donors are necessary and welcome everyday. Right now, O-negative and platelet donors are needed.

"To find a blood drive near you or to make an appointment to donate, visit lifesouth.org or call 888-795-2707. Donors must be 17 or older, or 16 with parental permission, weigh a minimum of 110 pounds and be in good health. A photo ID is also needed.

"If you are interested in hosting a blood drive, call 1-888-795-2707.

"LifeSouth is a non-profit community blood center serving hospitals in Alabama, Georgia and Florida."

Update, 7:30 p.m. Saturday

EMA says Sunday volunteers needed

Lee County Emergency Management Agency late Saturday released the following information:

Volunteers are needed (Sunday) at the Long's Warehouse 15691 US Highway 280 East, Smiths Station, Al 36877 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Please check in with Charles at the warehouse if you would like to help out tomorrow!

The DRC(Disaster Recovery Center)

2807 LR 166 Opelika, AL

(Beauregard Community)

will be open tomorrow 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST

The VRC (Volunteer Reception Center)

Windmill Acres

1258 LR 47, Opelika, AL

will be open tomorrow 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST

The MARC(Mutual Aid Resource Center)

Goodrich Plant Warehouse #F

1800 Crawford Road Opelika, AL.

will be open tomorrow 1 p.m. to 5 pm.

Updated, 10:15 a.m. Saturday

EMA updates list of supply needs

The following updated was posted Saturday morning by the Lee County Emergency Management Agency:

"Updated Supply Needs now at the donations warehouse located at 15691 US HWY 280 E, Smiths Station, AL.

"Mops and mop buckets

Yard work supplies (pruning shears, rakes, shovels, work gloves

Totes (show box size and large)

Coolers (small and medium)

"Please note: This location is for drop offs only. It is not open for public pick up."

TO ALL SURVIVORS If you have any unmet needs or need to report that you need assistance with debris removal, please contact 2-1-1 at 1-888-421-1266. To register use the Opelika zip code 36804.

Update, 11:05 a.m. Friday

District attorney, attorney general, sheriff and others issue warnings

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes hosted a Friday morning press conference featuring Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones and others as they joined to warn local residents of potential scams; and warned would-be scam artists to stay away.

The press conference was primarily tied to tornado recovery, but the warning was meant to be shared to all local residents.

"We've got a lot of people wanting to help, but along with that, we’ve got people here posing as wanting to help," Hughes said. "Insurance money is floating around... and that’s an invitation to these folks to come here and do this."

They warned to be especially aware of scams involving improper home-builders and contractors who are not properly licensed; and to avoid up-front payments.

Hughes, Jones and others also warned criminals that an all-out, team-unified effort will be under way to catch and prosecute would-be scam artists or anyone else looking to take advantage of the March 3 tornado tragedy. 

See related story coming soon to oanow.com

Update, 10 a.m. Friday

NBC's Al Roker, Today show, coming to Lee County

WSFA-TV in Montgomery, an NBC affiliate, released an announcement on its website Friday morning that the Today show's Al Roker will be in Lee County on Monday.

The following is part of its announcement:

"TODAY’s Al Roker will be reporting live from Beauregard on Monday, NBC announced Friday.

"Roker will be shining a light on the tornado-ravaged area and the people who are hurting there as they recover and rebuild.

"The visit is a part of TODAY’s ‘Lend a Hand’ series. Previously, Roker and Lend a Hand have helped storms victims in Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and Puerto Rico.

"Reporter Bethany Davis will join Roker Monday morning during Today in Alabama."

Update, 9:30 a.m. Friday

Disaster Recovery Centers open

State and federal EMA officials released the following updated Friday morning:

"The State of Alabama and FEMA will open two disaster recovery centers in the Lee County cities of Smiths Station and Opelika Friday, March 15.

"The centers offer in-person support to individuals and businesses in Lee County affected by the recent tornadoes.

"Recovery specialists from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the state and other interests will be at the centers to talk about available assistance and to help anyone who needs guidance. The centers are located at:

Mount Olive Baptist Church

784 Lee Road 298

Smiths Station, AL 36877

Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (EDT) daily

Providence Baptist Church

2807 Lee Road 166

Opelika, AL 36804

Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (CDT) daily

"Disaster survivors can visit either of the centers.

"SBA disaster assistance employees are committed to helping businesses and residents rebuild as quickly as possible. They are available to answer questions about SBA’s low-interest disaster loan program and help business owners and residents apply to the SBA.

"The centers are accessible to people with disabilities. Centers have assistive technology equipment allowing disaster survivors to use for people with vision loss. Video Remote Interpreting is available by request.

"The centers also have accessible parking, ramps and restrooms.

"Homeowners, renters and businesses should register for disaster assistance before visiting a recovery center by:

                        • Visiting DisasterAssistance.gov. o Name and Social Security number of the primary applicant;

                        o Name and Social Security number of secondary/co-applicant (encouraged but not required)

                        o Current and pre-disaster address

                        o Names of all occupants of the pre-disaster household

                        o Current contact information

                        o Types of insurance held by the household

                        o Household pre-disaster annual gross income

                        o Losses caused by disaster

                        o Banking information for direct deposit of financial assistance, if requested

 • Calling 800-621-3362 (TTY) 800-462-7585

The following information is helpful when registering:

                         o Name and Social Security number of the primary applicant;

                        o Name and Social Security number of secondary/co-applicant (encouraged but not required)

                        o Current and pre-disaster address

                        o Names of all occupants of the pre-disaster household

                        o Current contact information

                        o Types of insurance held by the household

                        o Household pre-disaster annual gross income

                        o Losses caused by disaster

                        o Banking information for direct deposit of financial assistance, if requested.

Update, 10:40 a.m. Thursday

EMA to open disaster recovery centers

The Lee County Emergency Management Agency released the following update on Thursday regarding disaster recovery centers:

Two disaster recovery centers will open tomorrow for survivors. Both centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST. The centers will be open 7 days a week until further notice.

The locations are:


Providence Baptist Church

2807 LR 166

Opelika, AL. 36804


Mt. Olive Baptist Church

784 LR 298

Smiths Station, AL.36877


Please go to one of these locations to register with FEMA, or to ask FEMA representatives questions. There will also be state and local representatives available to answer questions if needed.

If you have questions about a determination letter or have been denied, a disaster recovery center is a great place to speak to someone in person.

Small Business administration disaster loans, Hazard Mitigation, Disaster Legal Services, and Voluntary Agency Information are also available at the DRC (Disaster Recovery Center).

Update, 9:10 a.m. Thursday

Wednesday's volunteer efforts noted

The Lee County Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Forestry Commission released the following statement Thursday morning:

"On Wednesday, 276 volunteers continued the difficult task of clearing debris in the Beauregard and Smiths Station communities.

"The day ended with a candlelight memorial at Smiths Station city hall to honor the lives lost in the March 3, 2019, Lee County tornado."

Update 1:45 p.m. Wednesday

Macy's contributes $20,000

Macy's, a large national retail store chain, says it has joined other corporate donors helping Lee County.

Macy's reports it has donated $20,000 to the American Red Cross with intentions for it to help in Lee County tornado relief efforts. The following is its press statement released to the Opelika-Auburn News on Wednesday afternoon:

"Macy's is committed to strengthening the Lee County community as neighbors, customers and colleagues begin the recovery process following the damage and devastation from the recent Lee County tornadoes.

"To assist the community’s immediate needs, Macy’s has donated $20,000 to the American Red Cross to support its disaster relief efforts." 

Update 10:15 a.m. Wednesday

EMA updates drop-off/pick-up sites

The Lee County Emergency Management Agency released the following update on Wednesday regarding donation drop-offs and supply pick-ups:

The Long Buildings Donations Warehouse is transitioning to drop off of donations ONLY.

Distribution/Pick up by citizens affected by tornados will move to Smiths Station Fire & Rescue Station 1 (across from flea market)

The operating hours at both locations are 8am to 5pm central.

—Donation Drop off—
Long Buildings
15691 US Hwy 280E
Smiths Station, AL 36877

On site Contact: Rodney 850-339-9686, Todd 225-806-0746 or Charles 504-220-7564

GPS: 32.5653, -85.1303

—Distribution / Pick up—
Smiths Station Fire & Rescue
Station #1
50 Lee Road 430
Smiths Station, AL 36877

Update 8:40 a.m. Wednesday

SEC donates $100,000

The Southeastern Conference announced on Wednesday morning that it is donating $100,000 to Auburn University for tornado assistance.

The following is the statement released by the SEC, including a comment from university president Steven Leath:

BIRMINGHAM – The Southeastern Conference is donating $100,000 to Auburn University to support the needs of students, faculty and staff impacted by the damage caused by recent tornadoes.

“SEC teams often face each other in fierce athletic competition, but it is comprised of 14 institutions who come together as a family during times of need such as this,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.  “The Executive Committee of the Southeastern Conference has established parameters for use of an Emergency Relief Fund to assist member institutions in circumstances such as those experienced by members of the Auburn community.  We are pleased to be able to assist with efforts to ease the stress for those impacted by this devastating storm.”

The SEC has made similar contributions to Conference institutions in the past for university communities affected by natural disasters.

Auburn University President Steven Leath thanked the SEC for its generous support, noting that the university would determine a best course forward in maximizing the funds for its community.

“This is a remarkable donation that speaks to the SEC’s steadfast commitment to its member institutions and surrounding communities,” Leath said. “As we continue to evaluate further ways in which our university can help those affected by the March 3 tornadoes, this funding will be a tremendous boost to our coordinated efforts going forward.”

Update 4:30 p.m. Tuesday

Benefit concert tonight in Opelika

Tonight's concert to benefit tornado victims kicks off at 6:30 p.m. at the Opelika Performing Arts Center.

The concert will feature several local high school bands.

Admission is $2.

Update, 11 a.m. Tuesday

Monday's volunteer efforts noted

The Lee County Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Forestry Commission released the following statement Tuesday morning:

"150 volunteers worked Monday in the Beauregard Community.

"With direction from members of The Alabama Forestry Commission’s Type 3 Incident Management team, volunteers cleared Debris in their assigned groups in the Beauregard Community.

"Work was cut short today due to rainy weather conditions, but crews still manage to replace 14 grave markers back upright at Watoola Church Cemetery.

"With Lee Co Rd 38 opening back up after being closed Monday for debris removal, crews are expected to resume cleanup there on Tuesday.

"Over in Smiths Station students from Smiths Station High School volunteered to help assess every structure in the tornado's path.

"These assessments included gathering information as to whether the structure had no damage, light damage, heavy damage, or was completely destroyed.

"These assessments will help expedite the rebuilding process so the homeowners can get back to a normal life."

Update, 9:30 a.m. Tuesday

An AUsome welcome back to school

Many students and parents were surprised early this morning when they returned to Beauregard Elementary School for the first time since the devastating tornado that hit this community on March 3.

On hand to greet them by opening car doors, giving out stickers and high fives were Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl, Aubie, Auburn cheerleaders and basketball players, as well as local school officials and student athletes.

Pearl said he and his team were happy to serve and bring smiles to a school that lost classmates among the victim list of 23 killed in the storms.

"I told the guys it was on a volunteer basis," Pearl said. "The whole team showed up."

See today's updated photo gallery and story coming soon with more photos and details about this morning's welcome.

Update, 7:50 p.m. Monday

Lee County Road 39 still closed

The Lee County Sheriff's Office released the following statement Monday evening:

"Lee Rd 39 will be closed again on March 12, 2019. The Highway Department is continuing clean up of debris. Access will still be allowed to residents and emergency personnel only."

Update, 7:30 p.m. Monday

Alabama Forestry Service provides new numbers

The Alabama Forestry Service released updated figures Monday on the combined loss of timber from tornadoes that struck March 3 in Macon, Barbour and Lee counties:

   "The tornados that devastated parts of East Alabama on March 3 caused numerous fatalities and injuries, while creating massive destruction of property. In addition to this heartbreaking loss of lives and homes, there was also significant damage to forestland. The Alabama Forestry Commission’s assessment of timber damage from the storm determined that a combined 5,888 forested acres were damaged in Macon, Lee, and Barbour counties, with 149,130 tons of timber destroyed at a value of $3,369,071 million.

   "Adding insult to injury, these forest landowners impacted by the tornado may also encounter higher costs for heavy site preparation. With the excessive amount broken limbs, fallen trees, as well as non-forest debris on the property, site preparation will be extensive, thus increasing the cost of cleanup. There is also a cost for artificial regeneration or replanting of the site. The average total cost for site preparation and replanting a stand is estimated at approximately $425 per acre or $2,502,400 for the 5,888 forested acres impacted by the tornado.

   "With the value of damaged forestland and the cost for site restoration, the total estimated loss to affected landowners is $5,871,471. The complete report is located on the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) website at www.forestry.alabama.gov.

   "To reduce the fuel load that could contribute to destructive wildfires as well as potential bark beetle outbreaks, it is important for forest landowners to salvage their damaged timber as soon as possible. They should visit their local USDA service center to learn about cost-share assistance that may be available. More information on considerations when selling your timber is located on the AFC website, as well as contact information for your county forester.

   "The mission of the Alabama Forestry Commission is to protect and sustain Alabama’s forest resources using professionally applied stewardship principles and education, ensuring that the state’s forests contribute to abundant timber and wildlife, clean air and water, and a healthy economy."

Updated, 11:30 a.m. Monday

FEMA shares new details on disaster assistance

The following instructions and informational sheet was shared by FEMA on Monday morning:

What to Expect After Applying for Disaster Assistance

ATLANTA – Lee County survivors of the March 3 severe storms and tornadoes should file a claim with their insurance company immediately and begin cleaning up. Disaster damage should be documented through photos/videos, and all receipts for disaster-related purchases should be kept.

If you have uninsured or underinsured losses from the storms, contact FEMA for disaster assistance by visiting disasterassistance.gov or calling 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585).

If disaster-related damage is insured, FEMA may not send a home inspector right away. You’ll need to submit insurance documentation to show your coverage doesn’t meet your disaster-related needs or you have exhausted the Additional Living Expenses provided by the insurance company. FEMA cannot pay for damage covered by insurance or duplicate benefits from another source.

If you register for disaster assistance,a home inspector may contact you to schedule an appointment seven to 10 days after registration. During that call, write down:

  • The inspector's name.
  • Date of call.
  • Date and time of appointment.
  • Inspector’s telephone number.

The inspection generally takes 30 to 40 minutes and consists of looking at disaster-damaged areas of your home and reviewing your records. Inspectors can only verify your loss. They do not decide the outcome of your application for disaster assistance nor condemn property. FEMA inspects damaged property for disaster-recovery program purposes only. Inspectors will never ask for money.

The inspector will ask to see:

  • Photo identification.
  • Proof of ownership/occupancy of damaged residence such as homeowners insurance, a tax bill, mortgage-payment book or utility bill.
  • Insurance documents: home and/or auto (structural insurance/auto declaration sheet).
  • List of household occupants living in residence at time of disaster.
  • Disaster-related damage to both real and personal property.

Your inspector will have FEMA identification in the form of a badge with a photo. If the inspector does not show you photo identification, do not proceed with the inspection.

You may receive a visit from more than one inspector during the recovery process. In addition to FEMA-contracted housing inspectors, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as state and local officials may also visit neighborhoods in affected areas.

Survivors should receive a determination letter with their eligibility decision and the reason for it by regular mail or email, typically within seven to 10 days after the inspection.

For those who are eligible, the letter states the dollar amount of the grant and how the money must be used. If you disagree with FEMA’s decision, the letter explains how you can appeal the decision.

Read your determination letter carefully. FEMA may need additional information or documentation from you—such as an insurance settlement showing you may not have been covered for all your essential needs—before you can be reconsidered for federal assistance.

If you have any questions, you can always contact the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585). Find more details about the FEMA inspection process by visiting www.fema.gov/what-happens-inspection.

Updated, 8:45 a.m. Monday II

Second volunteer registration center opens

The Lee County EMA posted this notice early Monday regarding a new volunteer registration station opening in Beauregard, to join the one already in operation at Smiths Station Baptist Church.

BEGINNING MARCH 11TH, 2019 

THE VOLUNTEER RECEPTION CENTER (VRC) FOR BEAUREGARD WILL BE LOCATED AT WINDMILL ACRES 1258 LR 47 AND WILL OPEN AT 8:00 A.M. AND CLOSE AT 5 P.M CST.

All volunteers working inside the most hard-hit areas of the disaster zone must first register, be given an wrist band to wear, and be briefed on procedures.

Update 12:30 p.m. Sunday

Sunday's stories:

Among the stories posted today on oanow.com and in the Sunday print edition of the Opelika-Auburn News:

--When it quickly became clear that the local hospital and other locations in and near the storm would be overrun with the injured and dead, local clergy were included on the call list for help. They came -- by the dozens.

--Despite the power of an EF-4 tornado packing 170 mph winds, the beast couldn't bring down Old Glory. Read the story about a man who replaced the shredded flags with a fresh new Stars and Stripes.

--The schools in the impact zone were affected in ways that went far beyond physical damage, and in the coming week, students will return to their classes. Read about how local school administrators are working to help their students during the recovery process.

--Finally, be sure to read our Sunday editorial, as it is a message to our local community and to those just learning about Lee County. We knew who we were, but the rest of the world is just starting to learn about Lee County Strong.

Update, 9:30 a.m. Sunday

FEMA release 'How you can help' update

The following press statement was released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Sunday morning:

How You Can Help Disaster Survivors

In the wake of a disaster, Americans have always come together with compassion and courage to ask how they can help survivors of catastrophic events like the March 3 tornado devastating Lee County. 

Residents of Lee County who need help with clean up or other assistance should call 211.

“Support for residents of Lee County who sustained losses in the March 3 tornado outbreak has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated,” said Gerard M. Stolar, the Federal Coordinating Officer for the Alabama tornado disaster.

The fastest way to help – cash is best

Lee County is asking the public to be as generous as possible through monetary donations to the United Way of Lee County, earmarked for the March 3 tornado recovery. This ensures funds will go directly to trusted volunteer organizations working in the area and to help affected households.

This method gives these organizations the ability to purchase what survivors need right now. In addition, when these organizations purchase goods or services locally, they pump money back into the local and regional economy, helping businesses recover faster.

For a list of supplies that are still needed for survivors call or text 211 or call the United Way at 1-888-421-1266.

You can send donations by mail to:


United Way of Lee County, Inc.
P.O. Box 3075
Auburn, AL 36831

Or call the United Way at:

1-888-421-1266

Physical donations are being collected at:

Lee County Donation Management Warehouse 15691 Hwy 280 E.

Smiths Station, Ala.

Volunteering

Lee County opened a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) at Smiths Baptist Church, 2460 County Rd. 430, Smiths Station, Ala. from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until further notice. A second VRC is open this weekend only at Sanford Middle School, 1500 Lee Rd. 11, Opelika, AL.

Upon arrival and registration, volunteers will receive a work order based on identified skills and attend a safety briefing. Each volunteer will be given a daily color-coded wrist band to allow access into the affected area. At the conclusion of the day’s work, volunteers should return to the VRC for check-out.

Please wear appropriate clothing, including closed toed shoes and long pants, and bring work gloves if you have them. 

However you choose to give, be patient. Recovery lasts much longer than media attention. Recovery needs will continue for many months, often many years, after the disaster.

Update, 6:45 p.m. Saturday

Tuscaloosa-based foundation donates $10,000

This press statement was released to the Opelika-Auburn News on Saturday:

TUSCALOOSA – The Community Foundation of West Alabama has issued a grant of $10,000 from its Disaster Recovery Fund to the East Alabama Community Foundation to help with the recovery efforts in Lee County. 

“Tuscaloosa remembers all too well the storms of April 2011,” commented Glenn Taylor, President of the CFWA. “When that tornado ravaged our community, our peer institutions from around the country rallied to our aid. This is the least we can do to help our friends in Lee County.”

The Disaster Recovery Fund is one of about 80 funds managed by the CFWA.  These accounts are funded by donors to support a variety of charitable causes from arts to education to social services to disaster recovery, among many others.

“Community Foundations are a great way to build a culture of philanthropy in a community,” said Claude Edwards, President of Bryant Bank and CFWA’s Board Chair. “Donors can give to established funds like the Disaster Recovery Fund or start their own Fund through which they can recommend gifts to charities.

"There are tax advantages of giving through a community foundation, our board and staff have knowledge of the area’s nonprofit community and our procedures provide for an added level of vetting to ensure grant recipients meet certain standards.”

Update, 6:35 p.m. Friday

President Trump transcript

The White House has released an official transcript of President Trump's remarks Friday afternoon at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard.

Here are those remarks:

     THE PRESIDENT:  I just want to thank everybody.  It's been an incredible ordeal, what you've gone through.  The first responders have been -- so many first responders right here, and you've been incredible.  Law enforcement has been incredible.  And, frankly, you didn't need law enforcement, but they've done it so great.  They all just chipped in and helped everybody.  It's love.  It's great love.

     Your governor is here with us, your senators are here right now with us, and Secretary Nielsen -- and we've just said the A-plus job.  We're going to take care of -- FEMA is here and doing an incredible job.  I think you know that.  And we said we're going to just lay it out.  These are incredible people.

     We just met some of the survivors and family members, and what they've been through is incredible.  One woman lost 10 people in her family, and -- an incredible woman.  And she -- I said, "How -- how did it go?"  She said, "I lost 10.  Ten people."  And a couple of others lost two and three.  I've never seen anything like it.

     I just want to thank you.  On behalf of the First Lady and myself, I want to thank you for the job you do.  You're incredible people.  We couldn't get here fast enough.  I wanted to come the day it happened, but I spoke with the Governor, and she said, "Just give us a little more time.  We need a little more time."

     And already, the job is really great -- the job you've done.  So thank you very much.  FEMA is laying it out.  They're all here.  They're all heart.  A lot of folks coming in.  A lot of folks coming in.  And so, Secretary, I want to thank you for a great job, and thank all of the folks at FEMA.  And tell them to stay as long as they have to stay, whatever it is.

     Also a lot of the folks get aid, and we're providing all of the aid.  So you'll see the FEMA people; let them know as soon as you can so they know that, because a lot of people don't know that.  And they really need aid, in this case. 

     And, again, we love you all.  We thank you all.  We love the state of Alabama.  Georgia got hit a little bit, and we're going to be talking about that later.  We met the Governor; we met with Brian a little while ago.  He's very engaged, I can tell you that.

     Thank you very much everybody on behalf of the country and on behalf of the United States.  We want to thank you very much.  (Applause.)

  

Update, 4 p.m. Friday

Former NFL, Auburn High star donates $10,000

Lee County Corner Bill Harris released the following press statement on Friday afternoon:

"Today I am pleased to announce that a second major donation has been given for the funeral costs of the 23 tornado victims in Lee County. DeMarcus Ware, nine-time NFL Pro Bowler, Super Bowl Champion, and future 1st Ballot Hall of Famer has made a significant donation to assist in funeral costs for the 23 victims killed in the Alabama tornadoes.

"Ware has committed $10,000 to be used for the costs of grave markers for all 23 victims. The monies will be deposited with the East Alabama Medical Center Foundation and will be distributed to pay for the markers.

"In making the significant contribution, Ware said, 'When I heard the news, I didn’t know where to start, I just knew I had to do something. We are coming up on 'DeMarcus Ware Day' (April 19th) in the state of Alabama and when that proclamation was declared 3 years ago, I made a vow to always do my part to protect ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’

"'All things considered, this donation is small in comparison to the devastating feeling of burying a loved one. I look forward to making an even bigger impact in the weeks to come as relief needs continue to be assessed.”'

"Ware was born and raised in Lee County."

Update, 3:30 p.m. Friday

Trump departed; Beauregard traffic resumes

Roads and highways that were closed as security precautions for President Trump's motorcade have reopened. However, roadblocks still are in place at entry points for the hardest-hit areas of the Beauregard tornado.

Only registered volunteers with armbands, surviving residents, emergency officials and other work crews are being allowed into those areas.

Trump, the First Lady and their son boarded Marine One at the Auburn airport and headed back to Fort Benning to board Air Force One to continue their trip.

The Opelika-Auburn News will be adding more photos to our gallery soon, and additional stories are on the way to oanow.com and Saturday's print edition.

Update, 2 p.m. Friday

Trump's visit winding down

President Trump is on his was to the Auburn University Regional Airport to board Marine One for his flight to Fort Benning, where he will board Air Force One and conclude his trip to Lee County.

The White House shared these details after he had arrived in Alabama:

"During the roughly 25 min flight, POTUS received an aerial tour of areas impacted by the tornadoes. From his seat, your pooler was unable to see the damage but be sure to check the photos as I believe pool photog were able to capture aerial images of AF1 flying over the damaged area. 

"POTUS exited Marine One at 12:32. There he and the First Lady, Nielson and Carson were greeted by:

Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama 
Senator Doug Jones, Alabama 
MG Sheryl Gordon, Adjutant General of the Alabama National Guard
Director Brian Hastings, Alabama Emergency Management Agency
Sheriff Jay Jones Sheriff, Lee County, Alabama
Chairman Bill English, Lee County, Alabama Commission
Mayor Gary Fuller, Opelika, Alabama"

Update, 1:25 p.m. Friday

Trump mingles with roadside guests

President Trump and the First Lady have left their meeting at Providence Baptist Church in Beauregard, and once the motorcade pulled out, it stopped again by the row of crosses dedicated the victims.

Trump and the First Lady are out on foot and pausing for a moment of silence before each of the crosses representing the 23 victims killed Sunday.

Update 12:50 p.m. Friday

Others from D.C. join Trump

President Trump is not the only federal government member from Washington to have unloaded from Air Force One when it arrived Friday at Fort Benning. 

Also joining the president and First Lady on their tour of the disaster zone here in Lee County are U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and Congressman Mike Rogers.

Sen. Doug Jones toured the area on Thursday.

Update, 12:30 p.m. Friday

Locals happy to see president

Diverse gatherings in small pockets up and down Highway 51 in Beauregard turned out Friday morning to welcome President Trump and his motorcade. Some of the locals waited hours for the opportunity to wave and see the president's vehicle.

Emergency personnel filled the escort, but also dozens more were involved in rolling road blocks and traffic diversion.

Firefighters from Opelika and Auburn fire departments were stationed on standby in the high school parking lot, where and emergency zone was cordoned off in case needed.

The president is expected to remain here in Beauregard for at least an hour before heading back to Marine One for a flight back to Air Force One, which will take off from Fort Benning, Georgia, early this afternoon.

Update, noon Friday:

President Trump beings tour

President Donald Trump's motorcade passed by Beauregard High School moments ago. Roads along the path are closed ahead of his travel.

Melania Trump could be seen in the president's vehicle waving to the crowd of local residents and first responders gatheered alongside Highway 51 to wave and hold up banners welcoming the president.

The motorcade quickly passed by, escorted by dozens of secret security, Alabama State Troopers, various other law enforcement vehicles, and two ambulances in the rear.

A trooper motorcycle escort led the way.

More photos coming soon to the photo gallery on oanow.com and additional details will be reported here as they become available.

President Trump's visit is expected to last 1-2 hours.

PRESIDENT TRUMP NOTE: Many readers and viewers are asking how they can see President Trump today or at least view his motorcade.

We understand and wish we could help you, but there is tight security surrounding his visit, most of it will be closed to any kind of public access, and many roads and streets will be closed or blocked while in use by the motorcade.

No details are being released yet on his visit, including his route, but we have reporters out and about and will report more details as they become available. Please continue to follow our real-time updates below:

*******

Update 10:55 a.m. Friday

President Trump has arrived at Fort Benning

Air Force One has landed at Fort Benning, Georgia, and President Trump is loading his helicopter for a flight to Lee County.

Update 10:15 a.m. Friday

First Lady will join the president

Melania Trump and son Barron will be joining the president on his visit to Lee County, officials said.

The White House also released this quote this morning:

“Today, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will travel to Lee County, Alabama to survey the devastation from the recent tornadoes, meet with survivors and local officials, and thank our brave first responders.”

Update 10 a.m.

Beauregard geared up for visit

President Trump's visit has led to numerous security measures and personnel from many agencies on hand already in Beauregard this morning.

The president is expected to fly Air Force One into Georgia and then helicopter to Lee County.

More details as they develop. We are on scene at several locations.

Update, 8 a.m. Friday

President Trump visit

President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit tornado-damaged areas of Lee County today, having already declared Lee County a disaster area earlier in the week.

The primary significance for such a visit, numerous officials have said, is to bring attention to the plight of those in need, to bring attention to safety concerns and education in future storm dangers, and to provide a more open avenue to federal financial assistance.

Numerous security measures are being taken in association with the visit.

More details will be reported throughout the day, including shared reports and photos from the presidential press pool.

Update, 5:30 p.m. Thursday

Coming stories:

Today's full day of reporting and coverage will be bringing these stories to you on oanow.com and in Friday's print edition of the Opelika-Auburn News:

--Military veterans and Army soldiers from Fort Benning were among the many volunteers who came to help in Lee County on Thursday. We tagged along with one of the tough and rugged crews assigned to hard-hit Beauregard.

--The Porch Creek Indian Tribe is making a $184,000 donation to the East Alabama Medical Center Foundation to assist in the burial of the victims. Meanwhile, another donor out of state is pledging $100,000 of his money to help. We will report more about these major donations, and why people and corporations feel compelled to give them.

--A closer look at the clean-up efforts in Smiths Station and the challenges facing survivors.

--Funerals have begun for the 23 victims killed in Sunday's tornado. One of them on Thursday included a funeral procession with more than 100 motorcycle riders paying tribute.

--U.S. Sen. Doug Jones toured the disaster zones Thursday and later explained why it is so important for federal officials to visit such scenes, and what can come of it.

--Coming Friday: President Donald Trump will visit, and although roads will be closed and cordoned off under tight security, and there are no public events planned, we will bring you coverage of what comes from his visit.

Update, 2:30 p.m. Thursday

Additional unemployment benefits extended

The following press statement was released Thursday afternoon for tornado survivors regarding their employment situation:

"MONTGOMERY – Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced today that workers who became unemployed as a direct result of recent severe storms, straight-line winds and tornadoes in Lee County may qualify for unemployment assistance. 

"People who live in or worked in this county and became unemployed due to the severe storms.....may be eligible for assistance under the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program, which was triggered when President Trump designated the area as a disaster area on March 5, 2019. 

“Generally, those who are eligible for state unemployment benefits are not eligible for DUA, but a claimant may qualify if state unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted....

"People who may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance include the following:

"Individuals who no longer have a job, are unable to reach the place of employment, or were scheduled to start work in the major disaster area and the job no longer exists; those who became the breadwinner or major support of the family because the head of household died, or those who cannot work because of an injury incurred during the major disaster.

"All of the previously described circumstances must be as a direct result of the storms...

"Claims can be filed through ADOL’s website at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382. The deadline to file a DUA claim for Lee County is April 5, 2019."

Update, 1:30 p.m. Thursday

Latest posts from Lee County EMA

"Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief has free laundry services (for displaced storm residents) located at Providence Baptist church 2807 Lee Rd 166 and Smith Station behind government building 1100 Lee Rd 298, Times 9am-5pm CST"

"Siren Techs are out working on the outdoor weather sirens today. Should you hear them please so not be alarmed. It is only maintenance."

"Smith Station City Hall will be accepting personal items that have been found such as documents and pictures."

"A donation warehouse is opening at 4 p.m. today. The warehouse is located @ 15691 U.S. Highway 280, Smiths Station, Alabama. The hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for drop off."

 

Vigil planned at Beauregard High School

A local church and others are organizing a vigil for 6 p.m. Monday at Beauregard High School.

It will be a prayer vigil for the tornado victims. 

 Updated, 11:15 a.m. Thursday

Senator: We learn lessons for the next one

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones completed his Thursday tour of tornado-ravaged Lee County, pledging federal support and saying that such guest tours by high-ranking officials such as Congressional members and the president are important for providing help and learning lessons.

"You take part of this with you, wherever you go," Jones said. "This is not new for the president, either. He’s seen other disasters too."

President Trump is schedule to visit the area on Friday.

"I think any time someone comes and sees, it helps you plan for the next one," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Thursday morning that it is now accepting applications for assistance, with Trump having declared the area a disaster area.

The senator also said others should learn from the experience and heed warnings anytime they are issued and try to take shelter if possible.

"Warnings don’t’ always come through, but that’s a good thing when they don’t come through," he said.

Updated, 11 a.m. Thursday

Looters, beware

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones warned that there would be zero tolerance for anyone caught looking in the tornado disaster zone.

Security has remained strong, and only a few unconfirmed sporadic reports have come, he said, "And we handled that.

"If anyone is planning on coming to Lee County with evil intent, be forewarned, they will go to jail."

The number of law enforcement agencies on scene helping is in access of 20, he said, with close to 100 personnel from other law enforcement entities helping, in addition to the large number of local agencies on hand.

Updated 9 a.m. Thursday

Survivors in Lee County May Apply for Disaster Assistance

The Federal Emergency Management Agency released this information Thursday morning:

ATLANTA – Homeowners and renters in Lee County, Alabama, may now apply for disaster assistance for uninsured and underinsured damage and losses resulting from the March 3 severe storms, straight line winds and tornadoes.

Lee County was designated for Individual Assistance on March 5, 2019. To be eligible for disaster aid, storm damage and losses from the severe storms and tornadoes must have occurred March 3. Disaster survivor assistance specialists are helping people register for assistance in Lee County.

If you have a homeowner’s policy, file your insurance claim immediately before applying for disaster assistance. Get the process started quickly. The faster you file, the faster your recovery can begin.

If you cannot return to your home, or you are unable to live in your home, visit DisasterAssistance.gov, or call 800-621-3362 (800-462-7585 TTY) to determine what federal, state, local or voluntary agency assistance may be available to you.

If you can return to your home and it is safe, has working power, water, and sewer or septic service visit DisasterAssistance.gov to determine if state, voluntary and local organizations in your community can address any unmet needs.

“Working together with our state, local, and federal partners is an important part of helping Alabamans with recovery and rebuilding,” said Brian Hastings, Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. “We are saddened by the loss of life and destruction in Lee County, but knowing we have additional assistance and support, we will get through this, together.

"The disaster declaration is a huge step in the recovery process and will help the citizens of Lee County move toward a sense of normalcy and a better tomorrow.”

Disaster assistance may provide temporary help and a place to stay while you build your own recovery plan. Although the federal government cannot make you whole, it may also be able to help your recovery move forward by providing grants for basic repairs to make your home safe, accessible and secure.

FEMA is unable to duplicate insurance payments. However, those without insurance or those who may be underinsured may still receive help after their insurance claims have been settled.

“We’re working closely with Alabama EMA and voluntary agencies to get survivors the help they need. FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams are in affected areas of Lee County to help connect survivors with disaster recovery resources,” said Gerard Stolar, FEMA’s chief coordinating official in Alabama.

Long-term, low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also may be available to cover losses not fully compensated by insurance and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.

If referred, applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website at DisasterLoan.sba.gov or by calling the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or by sending an e-mail to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Lee County was also designated for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program to reimburse the state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for debris removal and emergency protective measures (Categories A and B).

Update 8:55 a.m. Thursday

Returning personal item found

Lee County EMA:

Smith Station City Hall will be accepting personal items that have been found such as documents and pictures.

A donation warehouse is opening.... The warehouse is located @ 15691 U.S. Highway 280, Smiths Station, Alabama. The hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily for drop off.

(For survivors only:) First Baptist Church in Opelika is a distribution center.

8:45 a.m. Thursday

Red Cross says NO MORE clothes needed

From the Red Cross on Thursday morning:

"A team of more than 50 Red Cross responders are in Eastern Alabama responding to the tornados - and more are arriving every day. These folks include Integrated Disaster Care Teams (IDCT) consisting of Disaster Mental Health, Health Services, and Disaster Spiritual Care volunteers - who will be meeting individually with affected families." 

DONATED ITEMS

"The Red Cross does not need donated items or household goods.  In fact, the Lee County Community has been so generous, donated items have taken over some of the spaces that would be allotted for people in need of safe shelter. 

"People who have lost their homes do not need clothing and household items – they have no home to take them to and no place to store these items. Financial donations are what’s really needed now to help the Red Cross serve our neighbors." 

OTHER WAYS TO HELP

  • Become a Red Cross volunteer at http://redcross.org/volunteer.
  • Download the FREE Red Cross Emergency App for expert advice at your fingertips, on what to do before, during and after disasters strike.
  • Take Red Cross training and learn how to save a life with first aid and CPR.
  • Give blood – the need is constant – find a blood drive at redcrossbloos.org.

Make a financial donation to help people affected by this and other disasters.

8:25 a.m. Thursday

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones to tour

Alabama's governor, attorney general and numerous other state officials toured tornado-torn Lee County on Wednesday. Among those planning to see the destruction today is U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

President Trump is still slated to see the damage on Friday, but not details are available yet on that visit.

One reason important for Lee County other than the visits bringing attention, is that the officials also are involved in clearing the way for needed financial support required in recovery efforts.

Update, 5 p.m. Wednesday

'If you think this is something...'

BEAUREGARD -- The governor was here, the state attorney general was here, the state EMA director was here, and plenty of others joined their entourage Wednesday afternoon, including Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller and dozens other local officials.

Gov. Kay Ivey arrived by helicopter, with a security detail and press crew accompanying her. 

The Beauregard High School library, yet once again this week, became a beehive of activity, with media from around the nation here to watch.

It prompted one security official on duty to scoff at the notion from a passerby suggesting things might settle down after today's VIP event.

"If you think this is something, just wait till Trump gets here on Friday," he remarked.

President Donald Trump is slated to arrive sometime Friday, although no details have yet come from the White House, and there is no indication that he will provide any kind of meeting in a public setting.

Several officials acknowledge, however, that if he comes as expected, numerous security and traffic concerns will need to be addressed.

Trump did not wait for the visit to declare Lee County a disaster area, having done so on Tuesday evening. 

Update 3 p.m. Wednesday

Governor stunned by devastation

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey completed her tour of tornado-ravaged eastern Lee County, calling it the worst devastation she has seen during her time in office.

"Absolutely horrendous," she said. "It’s just a wonder more people weren't killed

"The devastation to the land, homes……everything is in shreds. That means the hopes and aspirations of so many are in shreds."

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones was praised by several of officials for his leadership in the field, including a leadership role with search-and-rescue efforts with first-responders who flocked to the county's rescue within hours of Sunday's deadly strike.

"We’re pretty satisfied with our search effort to this point," Jones said during Wednesday afternoon's press conference. "This will open up the recovery phase."

More details will be reported soon on oanow.com and in Thursday's edition of the Opelika-Auburn News.

Update 1:30 p.m. Wednesday

Governor tours

Gov. Kay Ivey has arrived by helicopter, landing behind Beauregard High School where she is being greeted by an entourage with local officials and security personnel.

She will be given a land tour of the hardest hit areas, then return to the high school for a press conference and to sign emergency declarations that will help local victims with the finances and assistance needed during recovery efforts.

Update 1:10 p.m. Wednesday

Governor expected soon

Personnel are gathering to greet Gov. Kay Ivey, who is expected to arrive shortly by helicopter at Beauregard four a tour and press conference.

Officials also are scouting out routes and plans for President Trump's scheduled visit on Friday.

Update 10:30 a.m. Wednesday

Daily press conference highlights:

--Almost all of those who had been on the missing list are now accounted for.

--Death toll remains 23; only a few pockets of search areas remain.

--Four of the 60-plus injured remained hospitalized in serious or critical condition; in three different hospitals.

--The Alabama state trooper injured is among the four, still recovering in ICU at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika. Sheriff Jay Jones said that he visited him this morning and the trooper is doing well.

--Of new concern: An approaching weather system that is expected to cover most of the state on Saturday. More severe weather could be associated with that system, and weather officials are monitoring it closely.

--Volunteers will begin work today in Smiths Station, and possibly in Beauregard later today....but all volunteers must be registered and prepared first, at the registration center set up in Smiths Station. (Details reported farther below, and in a separate story on oanow.com )

--Alabama Power Company reports that at least 669 company and contracted personnel are or were working in Lee County. Crews continue to help with clean-up and on standby to restore power to homes in the impact zone once they are declared safe to have power again.

Updated 8:45 a.m. Wednesday

EMA to conduct weekly siren/notification test

The Lee County Emergency Management Agency will be conducting its routine weekly tests of emergency sirens and notification systems this morning.

Here's why, as posted by the EMA:

"We will test the Outdoor Warning Sirens and the LeeCoAlerts/direct notification system today @ noon, as is our usual practice. We must admit we struggled with this decision, considering what happened here on Sunday. We came to the conclusion that if the notification system, both sirens and direct alerts to your phones, saved even 1 life on Sunday then we should go forward with the testing.

"Today, as we conduct the test, both the Outdoor Warning Sirens and the direct alerts, we ask that you take that moment to reflect on what occurred here Sunday and remember the precious 23 members of our community that were lost."

Director Kathrine Carson

Updated 8 a.m. Wednesday

Highlights of recent developments (all reported below and on oanow.com):

--President Trump on Tuesday evening officially declared Lee County a disaster area, opening the door to federal aid.

--Trump is scheduled to visit the area sometime Friday. Other state and federal VIPs also are likely to visit during the week.

--Volunteers are being organized today, beginning at 10 a.m. at a registration station in Smiths Station. Details below, and in a separate story on oanow.com

--The Lee County tornado remains an EF-4; however the Macon and Barbour County twisters were both upgraded from EF-1 to EF-2.

--The death toll remains 23, with all IDs released Tuesday. Only a handful of people remain on the missing list. Two large corporations offered on Tuesday to pay all funeral expenses. Several obits began appearing in today's print edition of the Opelika-Auburn News, and online at oanow.com

--How big was the monster? A weather expert is amazed by size of the path of destruction left behind. See related story today on oanow.com

--One couple in Smiths Station, he an Opelika fireman and she at home when the storms hit, tell of their experience, which includes a flying fish. oanow.com

--Auburn basketball brought home a big win from Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night, defeating Alabama 66-60. Comments and a moment of silence was shared related to the Lee County disaster and support for the community. (see below)

--There will be a press conference at 10 a.m. today; we will be there to share with you the latest details, and we will continue to provide live reports and new stories and photos throughout the day.

Updated, 7 a.m. Wednesday

Auburn basketball thinking of community

Auburn men's basketball team traveled to Tuscaloosa Tuesday night to take on arch rival Alabama, winning the big game 66-60.

However, there was nothing but unity when it came to sharing solemn moments and thoughts about the lives lost and damage inflicted from sudden tornado disasters.

Many from the Auburn community traveled to help in Tuscaloosa when hundreds were killed statewide in tornadoes that struck in 2011.

This week, officials and others in Tuscaloosa have extended offers and support to Auburn, including a moment of silence observed prior to Tuesday night's basketball game.

Auburn star Jared Harper had this to say following the big win for the Tigers:

“With this being against Alabama, it’s big for our community.

“Us as basketball players and athletes in Auburn, we’re role models, so I know our team and all of Auburn, we’re going to do everything we can do to help.”

Coach Bruce Pearl and others associated with Auburn athletics have tweeted support for the community this week.

Updated, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Companies offer to pay funeral expenses

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris has confirmed to the Opelika-Auburn News that two large corporations have offered to pay all of the funeral expense associated with the 23 victims killed in Sunday's tornadoes.

Harris would not release any details on the identity of the companies, as the companies and families are still in the process of making arrangements.

Updated, 6:40 p.m. Tuesday

Gov. Kay Ivey thanks Trump for disaster declaration

The following press statement was released soon after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey's office, thanking the president for his help in providing the state federal assistance in wake of Sunday's tornadoes:

"In response to Governor Kay Ivey’s request on March 4, President Donald Trump approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Lee County in the State of Alabama today triggering the release of federal funds to help people and communities recover from severe storms, straight-line winds, and tornadoes that occurred March 3, 2019. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Program will provide assistance to residents of Lee County, Alabama.

"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster."

Comments from Ivey:

“President Trump has been very gracious and pledged his unwavering support to Alabama since the devastating storms and tornadoes struck Alabama over the weekend.

"Twenty-three lives were lost and dozens of Alabamians were injured,” Governor Ivey said. “This is a difficult time for the state of Alabama, but knowing that we have this additional assistance, and the support of our president and folks across the country, we will get through this together. We will recover, and we will lift up Lee County in this time of need.”

Updated, 6 p.m. Tuesday

President declares Lee County a disaster area

President Donald Trump late Tuesday declared the tornado-ravaged area of Lee County a disaster area:

The declaration, released shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, includes these details:

•  The President approved a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of Alabama on March 5, 2019

•  For Severe Storms, Straight-Line Winds, and Tornadoes that occurred March 3, 2019

•  Provides:

   ○  Individual Assistance for one county

   ○  Public Assistance for one county (for debris removal and emergency protective measures (Categories A and B)

   ○  Hazard Mitigation statewide

More details will be reported as they become available.

President Trump is scheduled to visit the area sometime Friday.

Updated, 5:25 p.m. Tuesday

Volunteers wanted

Lee County Emergency Management Agency and the local United Way will begin organizing volunteers on Wednesday to help in the tornado disaster zone.

The United Way of Lee County will be leading the effort, with EMA-approved representatives leading volunteer teams that will work within the most severe damage areas.

More information will be shared soon in a separate story on oanow.com and in Wednesday's print edition, but among the most important details:

--All volunteers must register first, with registration beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday; and then at 8 a.m. the mornings after Wednesday. Registration will end each day by 5 p.m.

--The volunteer center for registration will be at Smiths Station Baptist Church, 2460 Lee Road 430. Most of the early volunteer work will take place in the Smiths Station area first, as Beauregard continues to be the scene of search and evaluation operations with limited access.

--Minimum age is 14 for volunteers.

--All types of volunteer help will be considered, whether it be administrative help, the ability to transport donations, fold donated clothes, serve food, etc.

Look for additional important details in an upcoming story on oanow.com later this evening.

ALSO, FOR VICTIMS -- If you are in need of help, Lee County EMA requests that you call 211. You will be asked to follow instructions in filling out your needs.

EMA and United Way will then try to match volunteers with needs.

Updated, 1:35 p.m. Tuesday

President Trump coming to Alabama

President Donald Trump announced today that he will be visiting the tornado-ravaged areas of Lee County on Friday.

From his staff:

Moments ago during a signing ceremony for an Executive Order (entitled National Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide), President Donald J. Trump announced that he’ll be visiting Alabama this Friday following the devastating tornadoes earlier this week.

“I’ll be heading to Alabama on Friday ... it’s been a tragic situation, but a lot of good work is being done.”

Additional details will be forthcoming.

Additional updates, 11 a.m. Tuesday

Update, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday

All 23 fatalities ID'd;  volunteers station coming; tornadoes upgraded

Lee County officials at a 10 a.m. press conference Tuesday released the names of all 23 victims killed in Sunday's tornadoes.

Among notes from the conference:

--The last of the bodies was identified and released to the funeral home of the family's choice by around 10 p.m. Monday.

--Ages of the victims ranged from 6 to 89.

--Almost all of the victims were in their place of residence when the tornado struck. Most of the bodies were found in close proximity of their residence.

--Sheriff Jay Jones reported that the list of those still missing has dwindled down to 7-8 people; there are pockets of search areas still closed only to search-and-rescue personnel.

--A volunteer-registration location will be set up in Smiths Station on Wednesday to sign up volunteers. More information on that will be coming soon and will be published here by the Opelika-Auburn News.

--Fatal victims were handled with respect and one at a time, said Lee County Coroner Bill Harris. "We had to make sure absolutely that that person was who we were told it was." He described some of the painstaking effort taken to identify the bodies and notifying families.

--Lee County killer tornado remains an EF-4.

--Macon County tornado was upgraded to EF-2.

--Two Barbour County tornadoes were upgraded to EF-2.

Update, 7:15 a.m. Tuesday

In response to the tornado in Lee County, Airbnb has started its Open Home program to help those affected.

The Open House program will allow free stay to evacuees and emergency relief workers. Airbnb Open House hosts may open their homes for free from Mar. 4 until Mar. 25.

The program, since 2012, offers temporary house to those who are forced to leave their homes due to disasters, conflicts or illness, according to Airbnb’s website.

Airbnb hosts are eligible to list their homes for free multiple areas of Alabama and Georgia. To view the view the map of eligible homes, click here.

Update, 11 p.m. Monday

Auburn coach notes giving spirit

The Opelika-Auburn news has several stories posted online at oanow.com and in Tuesday's print edition reporting about the tornado aftermath.

Some of them focus on community giving, a point of interest brought out Monday on Twitter by Auburn basketball assistant coach Steven Pearl, who noted:

"Worth sharing, at Walmart this morning there were 10-15 ppl with identical shopping carts all getting items for tornado relief. Then while checking out the gentleman next to me handed me $20 to put towards my cart. In the midst of the bad, there’s so much good in this world"

Update 7 p.m. Monday

An Alabama State Trooper is in serious condition from injuries sustained in Sunday’s storms, according to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

Trooper Sgt. Robert Burroughs of the Opelika Highway Patrol Post is at East Alabama Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit with injuries sustained in Sunday's storms, ALEA confirmed Monday evening.

Burroughs and his wife, Sandi, also lost their home.

The injured state trooper is in “serious condition,” Cpl. Jesse Thornton told the Opelika-Auburn News.

Update 5:20 p.m. Monday

Trump comments further on tornadoes

President Donald J. Trump spoke about the storms that affected Alabama and Georgia while addressing the National Association of Attorneys General at the White House on Monday afternoon.

"To the people of Lee County, we stand by your side," Trump said in front of media.

The following are Trump's comments shared from White House staff:

“Let me begin by saying our hearts go out to everyone affected by the devastating storms in Alabama, Georgia, and the surrounding states, and especially to the families of those who have tragically lost their lives.  

"I’ve spoken with Governor Ivey, and we're working closely with officials throughout the region to get our communities back on their feet.

"Attorney General Marshall and Attorney General Carr, when you get home, please tell the people of the great states of Alabama and Georgia that America has their backs.

"...Let them know and -- the Governor and everybody -- that we're with you 100 percent."

Update 5 p.m. Monday

Hospital's injury count climbs

East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika had, as of 3 p.m. Monday, treated 63 patients during the previous 24 hours related to Sunday's tornadoes. However, only five remained hospitalized by late afternoon.

Officials earlier Monday and late Sunday night explained that a few patients were transferred to hospitals in Columbus, Georgia, and to UAB Hospital in Birmingham for assistance in treatment when the mass-casualty event occurred Sunday.

Among the 23 known fatalities, all but one died on the scene of the tornado strikes, and only one in a hospital. Three children were among the fatalities.

The fatal twister to hit Lee County was upgraded Monday to EF-4 status, with 170 mph winds.

Update 4:30 p.m. Monday

Four tornadoes confirmed

The National Weather Service updated its survey results Monday afternoon to reflect four recorded tornadoes in central Alabama during Sunday's severe weather, including the deadly Lee County storm.

The service posted this update:

"SURVEY UPDATE: 4 tornadoes now confirmed in Central AL

1) Beauregard-Smiths Station (Lee Co) - preliminary EF-4, 170 mph

2) South of Tuskegee (Macon Co) into Lee Co - at least EF-1

3) Co Rd 79 (Barbour Co) - EF-1

4) Eufaula (Barbour Co) - at least EF-1; survey still ongoing"

Update 2:30 p.m. Monday

Auburn mayor releases statement

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders shared a press statement Monday afternoon expressing support for those in Lee County affected by Sunday's tornadoes.

Among his comments:

"Please accept my deepest sympathy and condolences—both personally and on behalf of the Auburn City Council and the City of Auburn—for the victims of the tragic storms here in Lee County yesterday, March 3.

"Some of our neighbors in the county have lost loved ones, including children. Others have lost homes. We mourn with you today, and we will stand with you as you recover from this devastating event.

"...We’re thankful for the community spirit that has prompted many of you here in Auburn to ask how you can help. The City of Auburn, especially our Police and Fire divisions, has assisted in the recovery efforts, and we continue to offer any further assistance we can render."

Update 1:25 p.m. Monday

Death toll still 23, including three children

Lee County Coroner reports that the death toll remains at 23, but with areas still to search. Of those 23, 22 died at the scene, one at the hospital.

Also among those 23, at least three were children, ages 6, 9 and 10.

Update 1:05 p.m. Monday:

Lee County tornado upgraded to EF4, 170 mph winds

National Weather Service officials say the killer tornado that struck Lee County was an EF-4 packing 170 mph winds.

The twister cut a devastating path of at least 24 miles long.

It was the deadliest tornado in the United States since 2013.

pdate 12:50 p.m. Monday:

EMA announces volunteer sign-up

EMA:

"Anyone that would like to volunteer can sign up with Samaritan's Purse at "

Update 12:15 p.m. Monday:

Livestream broadcast set for 1 p.m. on oanow.com

Officials on the scene of Sunday's devastating and deadly tornadoes will be conducting a press conference at 1 p.m. Central.

The Opelika-Auburn News will be live-streaming that press conference here on oanow.com

Updated noon Monday:

Foundation sets up recovery fund

The Community Foundation of East Alabama has established a recovery fund for victims of Sunday's tornadoes.

The Lee County EMA posted the following on Monday morning:

"Long Term Recovery Fund has been set up by Community Foundation of East Alabama. List as Lee County Disaster Fund contact number 334-744-1020 or email info@cfeastalabama.org"

Updated 11:50 a.m. Monday:

University of Alabama offers support

Tuscaloosa and much of the University of Alabama campus in 2011 was devastated by a massive killer tornado that struck there. Many from the Auburn area and Auburn University offered support at the time.

Today, that support was offered in return from Alabama to Auburn.

University of Alabama President Stuart R. Bell issued the following statement of support this morning:

“Our hearts are heavy on The University of Alabama campus as we think about the friends, families and communities affected by the devastating tornado that tore through Lee County and across the region yesterday.

"As our prayers go out, there is such an incredible loss felt across our entire state, and the UA family is eager to extend love, care and support during the painful recovery and beyond.”

Updated 11:30 a.m. Monday:

President Trump orders support

President Donald Trump Tweeted his support for the victims of Lee County, Alabama.

"FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes. , one of the best in our Country, has been so informed. She is working closely with FEMA (and me!)."
 

Updated 1045: a.m. Monday:

Girl victim identified

Friends and other sources have identified one of the victims killed Sunday as Taylor Thornton, a fourth-grader at Lee-Scott Academy.

A gofundme account was established for the family, with this information included: 

"On Sunday March 3rd, a catastrophic tornado devastated Lee County, Alabama. Our dear friends, Ashley and David Thornton lost their precious daughter, Taylor in that storm.

"Words don’t even come close to imagining the pain they are enduring. Taylor was an amazing example of a child of God. She brought so much joy to all that knew her. She was loved dearly and will forever be missed.

"Our hearts are mourning with you Ashley and David. You raised an amazing daughter that fulfilled her purpose on this earth and it now with her creator.

"This community loves you both, and baby McCrae so much and will continue to walk through this by your side."

Updated, 9:25 a.m. Monday

EAMC seeks blood donations

The East Alabama Medical Center seeks blood donations Monday morning at Lifesouth Community Blood Center in Opelika as relief efforts from Sunday’s damage continues.

The center is located at 505 E Thomason Circle in Opelika.

EAMC spokesman John Atkinson said Monday morning that the medical center is hoping for donations.

“I’m sure it needs replenishing,” he said of the center’s supply. “If they can’t make it today, the need for blood never goes away. We just encourage people to think about it today or this week.”

Updated, 7:40 a.m. Monday

'It hurts my heart'

The death toll remains at 23, however, the number of missing individuals remains in the double digits as the sun rose on Monday morning in Lee County following Sunday’s tornados.

Search-and-rescue teams are expected to be out most of the day, starting in the hardest hit areas and working their way out, said Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones early this morning.

“We have a lot of our first responders are completely committed to helping locate anyone who may be out there still,” Jones said in a Monday morning news conference. “Unfortunately we anticipate the number of fatalities may rise as the day goes on.”

Jones expects nearly 200 individuals will be out assisting with the search and rescue efforts throughout the day. Jones added that he expects search and rescue efforts to extend into Tuesday due to the extent of the damage, which he described as catastrophic.

“I have not seen this level of destruction ever in my experience,” he said.

The hardest hit area, according to Jones, is the area around Alabama Highway 51 from Lee Road 42 to Highway 80.

“This is where most of the fatalities are located,” he said.

Among the dead are several children but the exact number is not known, according to Jones.

“It hurts my heart,” said Jones. “I love this county. It’s extremely upsetting to me to see these people hurting like this.”

Multiple injuries were reported on Sunday as well. Jones said the injuries ranged from minor to severe injuries.

Power crews will be out throughout Lee County helping to restore power to those who are still without it, said Jones.

Crews have also helped clear the roads in the area and most are now open, however, Jones urges people to continue to avoid the area.

“We’re asking folks that are not residents of the area, please do not come to the area,” he said. “We don’t want folks coming down and literally getting in the way.”

For those needing help, or shelter, the main shelter area is the Providence Baptist Church. Lee County Sheriff’s Office staff will be assisting with identifying people and helping with the relief effort at the shelter, said Jones.

Updated, 5:30 a.m. Monday

The American Red Cross has opened a shelter in Opelika in response to Sunday's tornadoes.

Located at the west campus of the Providence Baptist Church, the shelter has food and water available to those who are in need.

Meanwhile, power is still out for more 1,900 customers in Lee County. According to poweroutage.us, 1,977 Alabama Power customers were without power at approximately 5 a.m. Monday as a result of Sunday's severe weather.

Updated, 11:15 p.m. Sunday

Officials have confirmed that the death toll has risen to 23 from Sunday's tornadoes, with most search efforts suspended until daybreak Monday.

Meanwhile, the Church of the Highlands in Auburn will be accepting donations Monday morning. Some of its members posted the following:

The Auburn Dream Center on 1103 Donahue Drive will be open Monday from 6:00-11:00am to receive donations for those affected by the tornado in the Beauregard area.

*ITEMS NEEDED* Bottled Water Granola Bars Diapers Baby Formula Baby Wipes Hygiene Products feminine products

Update, 9:40 p.m. Sunday

The death count has risen to 22 known fatalities, including adults and children, according to Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones.

Meanwhile, more than 50 patients have been treated at East Alabama Medical Center with injuries from Sunday's storms, officials told the Opelika-Auburn News.

Search operations continue for the missing in isolated areas, with most search efforts resuming Monday morning "with a more intensive search," Jones said.

The death toll likely could go higher, Jones said, when more searchers return at daylight.

Update, 9:30 p.m. Sunday:

The killer tornadoes that struck Lee County on Sunday quickly became a national story.

Among those taking notice was Apple CEO Tim Cook, an Auburn University alum, who Tweeted:

"Devastated to hear about the lives lost in Lee County, a place close to my heart. Wishing strength and healing for all those affected by today’s tornadoes."

Meanwhile, search-and-rescue operations continue, where safe enough to conduct, as officials look for those reported missing.

Update, 9 p.m. Sunday:

There were more than 17,000 Alabama Power Company customers without power at one point during and after Sunday's line of tornadoes and storms that passed through the region.

Alabama Power released this update at 9 p.m.:

As a 9 p.m. update, approximately 4,200 Alabama Power customers are without service in central Alabama as a result of today’s severe weather.  The majority of those outages exist in Lee County (approximately 4,100 customers).  Earlier outages in Bullock County have now been reduced to 50 customers.  At this time, it is unknown how many homes are too badly damaged to receive power.

Damage evaluation and power restoration work will continue throughout the night.  Additional Alabama Power crews from other areas are also moving into central and south Alabama to assist with remaining outages.  Alabama Power personnel also continue to work closely with local authorities.

As a sidenote, the peak number of outages (approximately 17,300 customers statewide) occurred around 3 p.m. Sunday.  

Update, 8 p.m. Sunday:

Lee County EMA:

Providence Baptist Church 2807 LR 166 Beauregard, has been opened as a Red Cross shelter for those that may have been impacted by the storms today in Lee County

Update 7:40 p.m. Sunday

Lee-Scott Academy will join Lee County Schools system in closing Monday.

From its posting:

"We are aware that several of our families have been impacted, and because of the extent of this impact, Lee-Scott Academy will be closed on Monday, March 4. Our thoughts and prayers are with the communities and families of Lee County who were affected by the severe weather."

Updated 7:05 p.m. Sunday:

Lee County EMA:

"Smith Station Volunteer Fire Department Station #1 50 Lee Rd #430, Smiths Station, AL 36877 is being designated the area for citizens affected by the storms today to seek assistance with sheltering or other unmet needs."

Update, 6:45 p.m. Sunday:

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones confirms that at least 14 people are dead, others remain missing, and "search and rescue remains the priority."

Update 6:10 p.m. Sunday:

Multiple sources are reporting that at least 10 fatalities are known to have occurred from Sunday afternoon's tornadoes; there are multiple injuries and "walking wounded," according to one official.

Search-and-rescue operations continue.

Lee County EMA posted this at about 5:30 p.m.:

WE NEED YOUR HELP!

LEE ROAD 166 @ LR 40 AND

LEE ROAD 165 @ LR 40 ARE NOW CLOSED AND WILL REMAIN CLOSED UNTIL THE STORM DEBRIS AND DAMAGE ASSESSMENTS ARE MADE.

LEE ROAD 721 IS CLOSED INDEFINATELY.

THE FIRST RESPONDERS NEED YOUR PATIENCE AS THEY CONTINUE TO PERFORM THEIR DUTIES.

PLEASE AVOID THE AREAS THAT RECEIVED DAMAGE ESPECIALLY LEE ROAD 38 AND LEE ROAD 39.

THANK YOU!

Update 6 p.m. Sunday:

From Alabama Power Company:

At 6 pm, approximately 7,000 Alabama Power customers are without service in central Alabama.  Alabama Power personnel are safely working to restore service as quickly as possible.  Damage is being evaluated, but does include downed wire and broken poles as a result of fallen trees and limbs.

Outages exist in the following areas:

Lee County - 5,600 customers

Bullock County - 1,040 customers

Montgomery - 170 customers

Tallassee - 160 customers

Fewer, scattered outages also exist int he following areas: Autauga County, Butler County, Chilton County, Elmore County, and Wilcox County.

Update 5:05 p.m. Sunday:

Lee County schools will be closed on Monday as widespread damage continues to be assessed countywide after Sunday afternoon's tornadoes.

The county school system posted the announcement on its website and social media accounts:

"Due to Sunday's storm all Lee County Schools will be closed tomorrow 3/4/19"

Update 5 p.m. Sunday:

U.S. 280 eastbound remains closed on the normal lanes, but traffic has resumed eastbound using shared lanes on the westbound side; east of Smiths Station.

A downed cell phone tower is blocking the eastbound lanes, and other debris remains along the roadsides.

UPDATE 4:50 P.M. Sunday:

Police have reopened U.S. 280 east, between Smiths Station and Phenix City, by rerouting traffic into one-lane passage on the west bound lanes. This because of a downed cell-phone tower blocking 280.

Update, 4:30 P.M. SUNDAY:

Posted on Facebook by East Alabama Medical Center:

"Our community has sustained a major tornado and all first responders are at work.

"Our ambulance service has set up a satellite tent at the Beauregard Volunteer Fire Dept. (may get moved to Sanford Middle School). We opened our Incident Command Center around 2:45 p.m. CST and are prepared for patients arriving by ambulance and also by car.

"We have contingency plans in place for alternate care. Watch here and the Lee County, Alabama Emergency Management Agency page for the latest info."

Update 4:20 p.m. Sunday:

From Alabama Power Company:

At 4 p.m., approximately 10,400 Alabama Power customers are without service in central Alabama as a result of severe weather.  Damage reports include broken poles and downed wire as a result of fallen trees and limbs.

Where safe to do so, crews are actively involved in the power restoration process.  Power has been restored to more than 3,500 customers within the past hour.  At present, power outages are concentrated in the following areas:

Lee County - 6,700 customers

Bullock County - 2,300 customers

Montgomery - 680 customers

Greenville - 480 customers

Tallassee - 120 customers

Fewer outages are widely scattered in Autauga, Chilton, Elmore, and Wilcox counties

Update 4:05 p.m. Sunday:

Lee County EMA spokeswoman Rita Smith said first responders from multiple agencies are responding and that there are confirmed reports of fatalities and injuries, although she would not comment on how many. 

"Right now we are trying to assess what happened, with two separate events...

"Injuries have been reported, and we have got a lot of first-responders on the scene...

"If people can stay out of that area right now...that would really be great," she said.

Meanwhile Sheriff Jay Jones confirmed at least one fatality, that of an adult male in the Lee Road 38 area east of Alabama 51.

Sheriff's officials report widespread damage in that area as well.

Updated 3:45 p.m. Sunday:

Emergency officials have confirmed that there are fatalities related to Sunday afternoon's storms, but officials are not yet saying how many or providing details as they continue to perform search-and-rescue operations.

The tornado warning for Lee County is lifted and no longer in effect.

Road debris and blockage continues to be reported, as well as power outages.

Update, 3:15 p.m. Sunday:

Road debris and blockage is being reported throughout the Smiths Station area, including along the U.S. 280 corridor. Trees, a cell tower and other obstacles are blocking or partially blocking several roads.

2:50 p.m. Sunday: Updated with power outages; tornado warning.

A tornado warning is issued for Macon and Lee counties, and severe weather continues to cause havoc in much of the Macon-Lee County area.

Lee County EMA: "Tornado Warning issued March 3 at 2:38PM CST expiring March 3 at 3:30PM CST by NWS Birmingham AL"

The Beauregard and Smiths Station areas both are included in the tornado warning.

This story will continue to be updated.

The storms that reached Lee County and the surrounding area Sunday afternoon brought high winds, heavy rains, flash flooding and adverse driving conditions that helped lead to several accidents, including on Interstate 85 where traffic is slowed to a crawl in several locations.

"Please avoid milemarker 20 I85 southbound and find an alternate route," the Shorter Fire Department Tweeted. "Traffic is moving but very congested. We also have some significant weather we are in the pathway of. First responders have sheltered in vehicles until it passes."

Alabama Power Company began posting notices of outages as the storm entered the area.

As of 2:45 p.m. Sunday:

"As a result of severe weather, there are currently approximately 5,900 Alabama Power customers without service in central Alabama. Those outages exist in the following areas:

"Montgomery - 2,600 customers

"Auburn area - 1,600 customers

"Millbrook - 1,400 customers

"Montgomery - 610 customers

"Tallassee - 120 customers

"Fewer, widely scattered outages are widely scattered in Dallas, Elmore, and Wilcox Counties.

"Alabama Power crews are working to restore power when safe to do so."

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He previously served as the news editor in New York for the nation's second largest newspaper company, and as the senior editor at several other news entities around the nation. He is an Auburn alum.


Be the first to know when news happens.
Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Recommended for you

Load comments