MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - One year ago today, at 2 o’clock on a warm Sunday afternoon, a tornado touched down between Tuskegee and Auburn. The initial touchdown occurred in Macon County, where the damage was primarily limited to trees and power lines. Our team had been tracking this storm for almost two full hours - all the way back into Lowndes and Montgomery County.
We knew something bad could happen, might happen, but then, it DID happen.
The tornado crossed the Macon/Lee County line and strengthened rapidly as it raced into southern Lee County. We knew based on the radar data that we were dealing with a large, devastating tornado. We said and did all we knew to warn everyone in the path.
The first community in the tornado’s path was Beauregard. The damage reports quickly started getting worse - houses damaged, mobile homes destroyed, people missing.
I have had to report fatalities before, and it never gets easier. It is even worse in situations like this when we know that the death toll will almost certainly get larger as more information is reported. That was the case with this storm, and the empty, helpless feeling is hard to describe. In those moments, we aren’t able to process any of those emotions. We must stay focused on warning the next county, the next town, the next road. The storm demands our complete focus.
We all know the rest of the story. The EF-4 tornado tore across southern Lee County, cutting a wide swath of damage from Beauregard to Smiths Station, then into Georgia. Twenty-three precious, beautiful souls are gone from this Earth.
Today, we remember. We remember these 23.
We remember 6-year-old A.J. and how he loved chicken nuggets. We remember 10-year-old Taylor's smile, we remember how sweet 8-year-old Mykala wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader when she grew up, we remember how 9-year-old Jonathan loved to ask Alexa questions about the solar system.
We remember the Robinsons, the Tates, the Joneses, the Stensons. We remember Charlotte Miller, David Dean, Felicia Woodall, Irma Gomez-Moran, Mamie Roberts Koon, Marshall Lynn Grimes, Ryan Pence, Sheila Creech and Vicki Braswell.
We remember their life, their love, their smiles, their tears, their laughter, the sweet memories of better days. We remember family and friends, and we know today is very hard for you. Beyond words. You are not alone.
We remember the heroes of that day. The first responders, the law enforcement, the emergency managers, the neighbors, the strangers, the family, the people from all across the country who streamed into Lee County in our moment of need. Thank you. There are too many of you to name, and leaving even one deserving name off of any such list would be a guilt too heavy to bear. You know who you are, and thanks will never be enough.
This wasn't the first deadly tornado to hit our area, and it won't be the last. Make sure you are prepared - you need multiple, reliable ways of getting weather warnings. You must never rely exclusively on outdoor sirens. And, you need to know where you'll go if a tornado threatens your home. If you live in a mobile home, you must make arrangements well ahead of time, and leave your mobile home quickly in the event of a tornado warning.
We remember those we lost, and we must all take steps to prevent a disaster like this from happening again.