Tornadoes and storms rip through South, 176 killed
Authorities said 176 people died this week in storms that ripped through southern states in what forecasters said were the deadliest in four decades.
Thu, Apr 28, 2011 at 09:07 AM
DEADLY TWISTERS: Authorities in Alabama and Mississippi said they expect the death toll to rise as emergency workers attempt rescues and recovery in the storm's wake. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - Devastating storms and tornadoes raked the South, killing 128 people in Alabama and 32 others in Mississippi as they flattened houses, flipped cars and uprooted trees, officials said on Thursday.
In all, authorities said 176 people died this week in storms that ripped through half a dozen southern states in what forecasters said were the deadliest in nearly four decades.
But the worst devastation was on Wednesday in Alabama, where a massive tornado slammed into the college town of Tuscaloosa, killing 15 people, including some students.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for the state and ordered federal aid.
"Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation and (we) stand ready to continue to help the people of Alabama," Obama said in a message on Twitter on Thursday.
Deaths also occurred in Arkansas, where 11 were killed, and in Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee.
The storms also forced the Tennessee Valley Authority to close three nuclear reactors at a power plant in Alabama and knocked out 25 high-voltage power lines. Hundreds of thousands of homes have lost power.
"We have never experienced such a major weather event in our history," said the Tennessee Valley Authority, a U.S.-owned company that provides electricity to 9 million people in seven states.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency and said he was deploying 2,000 National Guardsman. Governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee also declared states of emergency.
"We're in a search and rescue mode. We're making sure that those that may be out there that are trapped, that we have not found, we are trying to find them," Bentley told CNN.
"There has been massive devastation across northern Alabama. These long-track tornadoes really tear up the landscape as well as homes," he said.
Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the U.S. South and Midwest, but they are rarely so devastating.
Images from Tuscaloosa, a town of around 95,000 in the west-central part of the state, showed widespread damage.
"Everybody says it (a tornado) sounds like a train and I started to hear the train," Anthony Foote, a resident of Tuscaloosa whose house was badly damaged, told Reuters. "I ran and jumped into the tub and the house started shaking. Then glass started shattering."
The campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, home of the famous Crimson Tide football team, was not badly damaged but some students were killed off campus, Bentley said.
Damage in Alabama was spread over a wide area through the north and central part of the state, said Jennifer Ardis, Bentley's press secretary.
The highest toll was in Franklin County in the rural northwest part of the state where 18 people died, according to figures from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
Eleven people died in Jefferson County, home to Birmingham, the state's largest city, the agency figures showed.
Authorities in Alabama and Mississippi said they expect the death toll to rise as emergency workers attempt rescues and recovery in the storm's wake.
(Additional reporting by Peggy Gargis in Birmingham and Leigh Coleman in Biloxi; writing by Matthew Bigg; editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Beech)
Copyright 2011 Reuters Environmental Online Report