On Wednesday, destructive tornadoes swept through a wide swath of the South, leaving at least 300 people dead and making this is the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1974. 

The death count rose steadily throughout the day: at least 195 in Alabama, 34 in Tennessee, 32 in Mississippi, 14 in Georgia, 12 in Arkansas, five in Virginia and one in Kentucky.  Authorities anticipate the death toll to rise even higher in the next few days.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.

In Alabama, where as many as a million people were without power, Gov. Robert Bentley said 2,000 National Guard troops had been activated and were helping to search devastated areas for people still missing. He said the National Weather Service and forecasters did a good job of alerting people, but there is only so much that can be done to deal with powerful tornadoes a mile wide.

One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama. A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barreled through late Wednesday afternoon, leveling the city.

The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out. The governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.

President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance.

"Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster," Obama said in a statement.

The storms came on the heels of another system that killed 10 people in Arkansas and one in Mississippi earlier this week.


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