Chambers County springs into action to help Lee County tornado victims

Published 6:00 pm Monday, March 4, 2019

VALLEY — The Greater Valley Area is coming together to help neighboring Lee County after it was ravaged Sunday by a killer tornado that killed more than 20 people.

On Monday, the Chambers County School District began collecting relief supplies for tornado victims at all of its schools. Those supplies will be loaded onto a semi tractor-trailer Tuesday afternoon and transported to Lee County. Supplies will be collected through Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.

Students from Valley High School were sorting clothes and goods during their psychical education periods or off-hours Monday afternoon.

Valley High School freshman Grayson Justice, left, and junior DeLane Williams help sort items outside of Valley High School to send to tornado victims in Lee County.

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Valley High School teacher Laurie Phillips said it was a coordinated effort from all the schools in the county.

“We are all collecting stuff to sending it down to help those in need,” she said.

Valley High School Assistant Principal Casey Chambley said the school district is stepping up during their neighbor’s time of need.

“Many have lost loved ones and their entire belongings in the blink of an eye,” Chambley said in a news release. “School students that we interact with in our sports programs have been affected, and we want to step up and give them the support they desperately need.”

helping hand: Valley High School senior Levi Sandler, far right, directs traffic Monday afternoon while senior A.J. Johnson, middle right, Anna CarMichael, middle left, and Alex Hernandez, far left, sort donated goods into box that are set to head to Lee County to help victims affected by a tornado in Beauregard Sunday night.

Items such as non-perishable food, clothing, personal hygiene products, water and cleaning supplies are being contributed by parents, students and school personnel throughout the district.

For those wanting to send supplies to Lee County directly, they should be taken the Church of The Highlands in Auburn, Providence Baptist Church or Greater Peace Baptist Church. Law enforcement officials in the Lee County area are asking individuals to stay out of the affected area unless they are a resident so search and rescue teams can perform their duties.

The Community Foundation of East Alabama has establishment a Lee County Disaster Relief Fund for donors seeking an official way to contribute monetary relief efforts. A news release from the organization said the foundation will receive, hold and disperse monies contributed

Valley junior Judson Garner, right, and senior Caden Prather sort clothes to be placed in appropriate boxes to be sent to Lee County.

to this fund in a manner deemed appropriate by the CFEA Board of Directors with input from the Lee County Emergency Management Agency and members of a Disaster Relief Committee. Contributions may be made on the Community Foundation of East Alabama’s website, directly to the Lee County Disaster Relief Fund or mailed to the Community Foundation of East Alabama.

Chambers County involvement

Several Chambers County first responders sprang into action Sunday night as help was requested by those in Lee County.

Among those entities was the Lanett Fire Department, according to Chief Johnny Wood.

He said the fire department sent an ambulance, which ended up transporting a victim to Columbus. Wood was also one of several members of the first department involved in search and rescue.

“It was like a war zone there,” Wood said. “I have been doing this line of work on and off since 1980, and I have never seen anything like I did last night (Sunday).”

The Lanett Fire Department also removed a tree that fell over onto I-85 southbound Sunday afternoon backing up traffic for a bit. Wood said it was near exit 72 and fire crews went out, cut it up and quickly removed it from the interstate.

Kathy Hornsby, deputy director of the Chambers County Emergency Management Agency, said Director Jessica Yeager was working with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office to hand out waters and Gatorade to victims and first responders, as well as helping with search and rescue.

Hornsby said the East Alabama Fire Protection District was also in Lee County to provide additional assistance.

John Atkinson, public relations director and marketing director with the East Alabama Medical Center-Lanier, said the hospital in Valley received about 60 patients from the storm. He said the vast majority were treated and released and only four remained in the hospital Monday morning.

“We have disaster protocols that we follow, so we had many extra staff and physicians working for several hours yesterday afternoon and last night,” he said. “We’re thankful to the community for its support.”

Damage done

Chris Darden of the National Weather Service in Birmingham said Monday afternoon that the tornado that struck Beauregard has been upgraded to the EF4 with an estimated 170 mph winds. He said it was 0.87 miles wide.

“It was a monster tornado,” he said.

Darden said this was the deadliest tornado since Moore, Oklahoma tornado in 2013 that killed 24 people.

As of 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said there were 23 fatalities, including at least three children. Their ages were 6, 9, and 10.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said there weren’t any additional victims recovered Monday afternoon, but they weren’t finished with the search for the day.

“We are basically using everything we can get our hands on to help with this search,” he said.

He said the sheriff’s office has brought in the heat-seeking drones to attempt to find as many victims as possible.

Gov. Kay Ivey made an appearance in Lee County Monday afternoon to survey the damage.

“To know Alabama is to know we are a tight-knit community of people and today each of mourns the loss of life of fellow Alabamians,” she said. “Amidst this tragedy, we have a job to do — we must build back Lee County to its feet.”

She said all of Alabama was focused on Lee County Monday.

“As your governor, I want you to know, I’ve got your back,” she said. “I will do everything I can do to help Lee County recover, and recover strong.”

It wasn’t just Alabama that was focused on Lee County, as President Donald Trump fired off a couple tweets informing the country he has instructed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to treat those in the affected areas well.

“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,” the president tweeted.