BEAUREGARD, Ala. — Sunday was supposed to be a special day.
Cora Jones, 52, had been through a lot in recent months: a breast cancer diagnosis in December. A job loss and a move after that. But she had gotten through it thanks to support from members of her family, many of whom lived just several roads away from her in the small community of Beauregard.
So on Sunday, after church, Jones planned to go to her parents' house and cook them a meal that included her mother's favorite food: sweet potatoes. It was going to be a chance to have a nice evening together as a family.
Instead, shortly after they returned home from church, Jones' parents — Mary Louise Jones, 83, and Jimmy Lee Jones, 89 — were killed when devastating tornadoes cut through eastern Alabama on Sunday afternoon.
Jones, whose home was not damaged by the tornadoes, raced to her parents' place after the twisters hit, hoping to find them alive.
"When I got up that hill, I see no houses. Everything was gone. I just couldn't believe it," Jones said. "It looked like someone took a chainsaw and went, 'swoop.'"
She found her father's body. Emergency personnel later told her about her mother's death.
"Just the image — I will never get out of my head. They really didn’t want me to see the picture, but I had to identify the body."
But the losses did not stop there. A total of 10 members of Jones' extended family were killed, including a brother, a cousin, a niece and a second cousin of her mother's.
Jones' eyes welled with tears as she spoke Wednesday of the crushing grief.
"I ain't getting through it good at all," she said.
Several tornadoes whipped through the area on Sunday afternoon, killing 23 people, injuring dozens, and strewing debris everywhere. One of the twisters had estimated wind speeds of 170 mph — an EF4, according to Chris Darden of the National Weather Service. The worst of the damage was near Beauregard, according to the Lee County Emergency Management Agency.
Besides her parents, Jones' brother, Emmanuel Jones, 53, was killed. The other extended members of her family who died in the tornado are Maggie Delight Robinson, 57; Raymond Robinson, Jr., 63; Tresia Robinson, 62; Eric Jamal Stenson, 38; Florel Tate Stenson; 63; Henry Lewis Stenson, 65, and James Tate, 86.
"I just got so many questions, but you know, you don’t question the Lord," Jones said. "Just why, why, you know, why? Why this had to happen like this? To everybody that you know and love? At one time? Why?"
Jones said the first of the funerals for her family members will be Saturday. She hasn't allowed herself to really cry yet, she said.
"When I break down, I'm going to break down," she said. "I might need two or three days to myself."
The loss of her mother has been particularly hard. The last conversation Jones had with her was about the Sunday dinner she had planned.
"I had no idea I was seeing my mama for the last time, and I would have so many things to tell her," Jones said, adding that she would have told her mother how much she loved her.
"Tell somebody you love them every day," Jones said. "You might not mean it, but just tell them, because you don't know — you might not even come back."
NBC News' Gabe Gutierrez reported from Beauregard, Alabama. NBC News' Elizabeth Chuck reported from New York.