alabama tornado victim intv cuomo
Alabama tornado victim to mom: I don't want to die
02:17 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Crews are narrowing down the search areas for people still missing after a string of tornadoes swept through southeastern Alabama over the weekend.

At this time, officials said Tuesday, the number of missing is seven or eight.

“Hopefully that number will continue to decrease as the day goes on,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones told reporters on Tuesday.

He said heavy equipment is being used to clear debris and that the search and rescue mission will soon move to a recovery status.

President Trump said he plans to visit Alabama on Friday.

“It’s a tragic situation but a lot of work is getting done” in tackling the storm damage, he said Tuesday at the White House..

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said that of the 23 people who died in the storms, four were children and seven were members of the same family by marriage.

Dozens of people were injured, with 77 patients from areas affected by the tornadoes hospitalized on Sunday.

Six adult patients remain hospitalized at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital, spokeswoman Holly Gainer confirmed to CNN.

Four other patients remain hospitalized at East Alabama Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman John Atkinson.

Victims ranged in age from 6 to 89

Harris on Tuesday released the names and ages of the 23 victims. The youngest was 6 and the oldest, 89.

EMA director Kathy Carson told reporters at the Tuesday briefing that there has been an outpouring of offers of assistance. She said authorities are organizing a volunteer reception area for those who want to help.

Residents who’ve lost their homes can get shelter, food and medications, she said.

“We’re here for the citizens. We cannot emphasize enough that we want them to communicate and let us know what they need,” she said.

The tornado that ripped through Lee County was an EF-4, carrying 170 mph winds. It had nearly a mile-wide track and ground along for 65 miles.

Two EF-1s also hit the area, one in Lee and Macon counties and another in Barbour County to the south. Tornadoes are measured on the Enhanced Fujita scale – named for the weather researcher who developed it – from 0 to 5 based on intensity and damage caused.

Gov. Kay Ivey extended the state of emergency that had been issued last month due to tornadoes and severe weather and made a request for a federal major disaster declaration.

Stories of survival

Lashawn Wilson sat crammed between her 72-year-old mother, her son and her husband in the bathroom of her mom’s home.

Her family barely had enough time to get to her mom’s brick house from their mobile home when the first alert sounded through the television, warning of 70 mph winds, Wilson told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

“We can make this,” she said she thought. “We’ve been through hurricanes, we’ve been through strong winds before.”

Seconds after Wilson saw the first alert Sunday, the electricity went out. She grabbed her mom’s portable oxygen tank and shut herself in the bathroom with her family.

“I could hear the roaring coming, nearing,” she said. “At that moment, that’s when (we) heard the house just being torn apart… second after that, everything started pressing in on us.”

“We all got pushed down flat, we were like dominoes on top of each other. My son was on top of me and he said ‘Mom, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.’”

All around, Wilson could see nothing but debris, as the wind whipped through the home.

“It’s just unreal,” Wilson said, still in disbelief. Her life, and small Alabama community will never be the same.

“It’s not anything I would have imagined for me and my family in a million years. Not for our area, not for our community.”

Georgia emergency

A tornado destroyed more than 15 structures in neighboring Talbotton, Georgia, including multiple homes and an apartment building, the Talbot County emergency management director said.

Vinton Copeland, pastor at Powell Baptist Church in Talbotton, told CNN people there did not expect a tornado to hit.

“Complete apartments are gone and damaged. We have a shelter at our county high school for those affected. It’s devastating and houses are gone and there are power lines decimated. Tough time,” he said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in Grady, Harris and Talbot counties, in the southern part of the state.

He said almost two dozen homes were completely destroyed, up to 40 homes sustained some sort of damage and a couple of businesses were destroyed. Georgia Emergency Management Director Homer Bryson is working with local officials to restore power to approximately 3,000 people in the region.

This story has been updated to reflect new information from Coroner Bill Harris that the oldest victim is 89.

CNN’s Marlena Bardacci, Artemis Moshtaghian and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.