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Tornadoes, storms rip US, more than 220 dead

News18test sharma |

Updated: April 28, 2011, 11:04 AM IST
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Tornadoes, storms rip US, more than 220 dead
Up to 1 million people in Alabama were left without power.

Tuscaloosa: Tornadoes and violent storms ripped through seven southern US states, killing more than 220 people as they flattened neighborhoods, flipped cars and toppled trees and power lines, officials said on Thursday.

In the deadliest series of tornadoes in nearly four decades in the United States, 131 people were killed in Alabama, the worst-hit state which suffered "massive destruction of property," Governor Robert Bentley said.

"We expect that number to rise," Bentley said in a conference call with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate.

In preliminary estimates, other state officials reported 32 killed in Mississippi, 30 in Tennessee, 11 in Arkansas, 10 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and two in Louisiana. The clusters of powerful tornadoes -- more than 100 in total -- combined with storms to cut a swathe of destruction heading from west to east over several days.

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama was expected to be shut for days, possibly weeks, as workers repaired damaged transmission lines.

Up to 1 million people in Alabama were left without power.

FEMA chief Fugate said it is too early for his agency to give a confirmed overall death toll and authorities are concentrating on rescue and recovery.

Some of the worst devastation occurred on Wednesday in Alabama, where a massive mile (1.6 km)-wide tornado slammed into Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama, killing at least 15 people including some students.

"It sounded like a chain-saw. You could hear the debris hitting things. All I have left is a few clothes and tools that were too heavy for the storm to pick up. It doesn't seem real," said student Steve Niven, 24.

"I can buy new things but you cannot replace the people. I feel sorry for those who lost loved ones," Niven told Reuters.

US 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.

Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the US South and Midwest, but they are rarely so devastating.

Shops, shopping malls, drug stores, gas stations and dry cleaners were all flattened in one section of Tuscaloosa, a town of around 95,000 in the west-central part of Alabama.

"We have never experienced such a major weather event in our history," said the Tennessee Valley Authority, a US-owned company that operates the Browns Ferry nuclear plant and provides electricity to 9 million people in seven states.

The worst series of tornadoes on record in the United States was in April 1974 when some 300 people were killed, according to the National Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma City.

Alabama Governor 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.

"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, 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.

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.

First Published: April 28, 2011, 11:04 AM IST
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