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Alabama funeral home provides services for young, old storm victims

By Phil Gast, CNN
  • At least 33 died in Alabama county
  • Funeral home handling services for 17 of them
  • The youngest there is 6; the oldest was in his 80s
  • Tornadoes
  • Weather
  • Alabama

(CNN) -- Michael Edmondson saw the land of both the living and the dead as he went aloft Saturday in a paraglider above DeKalb County, Alabama.

Below him, communities of smashed homes stretched for miles. Storm survivors sifted through debris and emergency responders negotiated streets.

The sheriff's office chief deputy also spied cemeteries that dot this corner of northeastern Alabama.

"You can see the tents they (funeral homes) are putting up and preparing in order to lay them to rest."

Edmondson was speaking of 33 people killed by Wednesday's powerful tornadoes that struck DeKalb County.

They were among at least 250 to die in Alabama. Eighty-nine more were killed in five other Southern states.

Across the region, communities are bidding their loved ones and neighbors farewell. A day of prayer was declared for Sunday in Alabama.

At least two tornadoes are believed to have ravaged communities in DeKalb County, including Shiloh, Fyffe, Rainsville, Henagar and Ider.

W.T. Wilson Funeral Chapel in Rainsville is providing services to families for 17 of the dead.

The victims, said owner Tommy Wilson, range from a 6-year-old girl to a man in his 80s.

"It's hard trying to help the families," Wilson said. "We're doing the best we can."

The funeral home has power now after operating on generators.

Normally, Wilson's staff handles about 30 funerals a month. The services for the 17 started Friday and continue through Thursday.

"We want to show everyone the proper respect," Wilson said. "We spend as much time as we can with the families."

Services for four people whose deaths are not storm-related also are being provided by the chapel, the businessman told CNN.

Chris Townson, a youth pastor at Nazareth Baptist Church near Rainsville, said none of the church's 350 members died, but many lost immediate family members, including brothers and grandmothers.

The church will hold a single prayer service Sunday morning.

"We want to give people a chance to worship the Lord and leave to serve," Townson said.