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'Monster tornado' that killed at least 23 in Alabama is deadliest twister in years

Three children ages 6, 9 and 10 were among those killed when tornadoes hit eastern Alabama, including one that was about a mile wide and 24 miles long.

The tornadoes in eastern Alabama that killed at least 23 people, three of whom were children, included a "monster tornado" that was the deadliest storm in the country since 2013.

Almost all of the victims whose bodies have been recovered from Sunday's tornadoes have been identified, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said at a press conference Monday. The bodies of the three children, ages 6, 9 and 10, were among those recovered, he said.

"It’s been a long, long night," Harris said. "Some of these families have lost practically almost the entire family."

AJ Hernandez, 6, and Taylor Thornton, 10, were two of the three children who died in the storm, NBC News confirmed.

Taylor's parents, Ashley and David Thornton, told NBC News' Lester Holt that their daughter returned early from a camping trip with her friend on Sunday when the storm hit. The couple then had trouble getting in contact with the father who took the children camping.

David was told by police of Taylor's death upon arriving at the father's destroyed home.

*She was perfect. She didn't cause any problems," David said. "She was the air in my lungs."

AJ Hernandez
AJ HernandezFamily photo

As of Monday afternoon, no additional victims had been recovered through search and rescue efforts but authorities have not yet finished looking, Sheriff Jay Jones said.

Several tornadoes hit the state Sunday afternoon, including the "monster tornado," which reached an estimated wind speed of 170 mph, according to Chris Darden of the National Weather Service.

Darden said Monday that the tornado had been upgraded to an EF4 designation, the second-highest category used to rate tornadoes based on damage and wind speed.

Experts have estimated that the tornado was about a mile wide and spanned at least 24 miles in length, though that estimate could increase as surveyors examine the storm's track across the Georgia border, according to Darden.

That is the deadliest since 2013, when an EF5 tornado killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma.

The deaths are also the first tornado-related fatalities in Alabama since November 2016, Darden said.

Image: Shiraka Baker
Shiraka Baker stands in the bathroom where she rode out a tornado with her husband and three children as she retrieves belongings from the damaged home in Beauregard, Alabama, on March 4, 2019.David Goldman / AP

Authorities began predicting the possibility of tornadoes Thursday, and issued tornado watches and warnings beginning early Sunday.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared a statewide emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was sending a team, whose primary focus would be on search and rescue "as there are many people unaccounted for," according to Ivey.

President Donald Trump called Ivey early Monday to offer his condolences and support, she said.

Trump also tweeted about the tragedy earlier in the day.

"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," he wrote.