Authorities have confirmed that seven members of the same family are dead as a result of the fierce tornadoes that struck Alabama over the weekend. The Lee County Coroner’s office noted that all of the victims were from the town of Beauregard, which is thought to have been the epicenter of the vicious storm.
The Stenson, Tate and Robinson families, who were joined together through marriage, lost seven members ranging between the ages of 38 and 86. The names of the victims are as follows: Eric Jamal Stenson, 38; Florel Tate Stenson, 63; Henry Lewis Stenson, 65; James Henry Tate, 86; Maggie Delight Robinson, 57; Raymond Robinson Jr, 63; and Tresia Robinson, 62.
Beauregard resident Olin Norwood knew many of the Stenson-Tate family members who perished in the deadly storm. He “thought a heap of them,” he said, according to AL.com.
“It’s hard to try to say it right now, it really just hurts to think about it, to think about all of them gone, and the way they left,” Norwood said. “I know God don’t make no mistakes, and whatever He do, He do for the best. It wasn’t our time, it was their time to go, and that’s what He had planned.”
“We believe that every victim was in the residence when it hit,” said Lee County Coroner Bill Harris of the family, according to the BBC. “They all ended up, with the exception of two, outside the residence.”
Harris added that their homes “aren’t there” anymore.
Tragically, four children have now been confirmed among the 23 who lost their lives, while countless others still remain unaccounted for. Edward Graham, grandson of the late Billy Graham, is working on the ground in Lee County with Samaritan’s Purse, where the grief and heartache is palpable.
“Unfortunately, for several families, they have lost loved ones,” the former U.S. Army Major and grandson of the late Rev. Billy Graham told Faithwire in a phone interview. “It was a bad storm.”
The town of Beauregard, the storm’s epicenter, was “so bad that we couldn’t even get our teams in there,” Graham explained. “Unless you had a badge or you were a first responder, you weren’t allowed in there because they were still doing search and rescue.”
Graham said the storm whipped up several tornados, making it almost impossible to predict the direction of the impending vortex.
“Another tornado popped down going toward Smith Station. That’s close to the area where I’ve lived a good portion of my life,” Graham said. “I was in the military at an army base just on the other side of the river.”
He added that there were “a lot of lower-income families” affected by the tornadoes, noting that a number of trailer parks were affected by the twisters.
“You can imagine a storm like this, the damage that it does in a trailer park — complete destruction,” he said.
Speaking from Opelika, just north of the hardest-hit areas, Graham explained that he had met with one woman, who burst into floods of tears when she realized that the team was there to help her disabled veteran neighbor, who was caught up in the tornado and his house destroyed.
“He didn’t have insurance,” Graham said, adding the woman was “more worried about her neighbor than she was her own roof.”
“She actually recognized my big nose and chin that I have, being a Graham,” he laughed.
“We prayed and loved on her,” he said, noting that “the first teams are going out this morning to work on both their homes.”
While there was some speculation that residents were not given ample warning of the impending weather front, Graham said that the locals are quite used to the brutal weather systems.
“Tornadoes happen a lot,” he said, noting that the real issue was that people housed in trailers had absolutely nowhere to take shelter. “There’s just nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. Unless you have a basement, which not a lot of homes here have, you have nowhere to hide.”
“I looked at some of these homes, and I don’t know how people walked out alive,” Graham added. “It is just complete destruction.”
“I’m praying for these families, and for these first responders and the work they’ve been doing. They’ve been getting after it for the last 48 hours without rest — I know they are burdened,” he said.
How can people help?
While the people of Alabama require urgent material support, we must also remember to pray for all those affected, and all those involved in the relief effort.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer,” Graham said. “Pray for these families that have lost loved ones. Pray for the volunteers and pray for the first responders. Pray for the churches here, that this will be a time that they will rally, to get out in their communities and work.”
However, the biggest need Graham could identify was for additional volunteers.
“If you can make it here as a volunteer, we’d rather have that. We’d rather have your time, your resources and your body here, helping out,” he said. “God will provide the resources. We’d rather have the people down here.”
- Taylor Thornton, a 4th grader at Lee-Scott Academy, also perished in the tornado. A GoFundMe has been set up by family friend, Kaitlyn Willing, to help during this devastating time.
“Please prayerfully consider donating to help this family cover funeral costs and other expenses they will endure,” Willing wrote on the page.
- Vicki Braswell, 69, has also been confirmed among the dead. A GoFundMe campaign set up, with donations going “towards clothing for the family, medical bills that they are enduring, food expenses and the funeral expenses.”