Trail of destruction
At least 294 killed in monster storms across the South
Dazed Southerners on Thursday comforted one another and began the process of rebuilding after a barrage of storms claimed nearly 300 lives and reduced once-familiar neighborhoods to piles of bricks and lumber.
The grim death toll from the 24-hour storm period continued to rise, with 294 counted in six states. Among them were two university students in Alabama. Nearly 1 million customers were without electricity.
The vast majority of fatalities occurred in Alabama, where at least 207 people perished, according to state and local officials.
Gov. Robert Bentley and other officials stood Thursday afternoon in the bright sunshine in Tuscaloosa, the epicenter of the state’s misery, to detail the damage and recovery effort.
“People’s lives have just been turned upside down,” Bentley said. “It affects me emotionally. When I fly over this, it is difficult.”
The South endured the second-deadliest tornado outbreak in the nation’s history since record keeping began in 1950. Weather experts said humidity, cooler temperatures and vertical wind shear made for a deadly concoction.
The death toll in the hard-hit city of Tuscaloosa, in west-central Alabama, was at 38 as of Thursday, Mayor Walter Maddox said. Infrastructure losses are hurting recovery efforts, he said.
“My heart is broken,” Maddox said late Alabama: 207 Tennessee: 34 Mississippi: 32 Georgia: 15 Virginia: 5 Arkansas: 1 TOTAL: 294 Thursday. “We have a resilient spirit here and it will be on display for the world to see.”
A breakdown provided by Bentley’s office showed that violent weather claimed lives in 19 of Alabama’s 67 counties, with Tuscaloosa County at the top of the list. Thirty-two people perished in DeKalb County in northeastern Alabama, and 14 died in Jefferson County, Birmingham’s home. The death toll for Frank- lin County stood at 27 on Thursday evening.
It wasn’t just the incredible winds and funnel clouds that made conditions miserable for millions.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency in preparation for the Mississippi River cresting well above flood level. In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour advised residents to prepare for levels 3 feet higher than in 2008.
President Obama on Thursday called the loss of life from storms in the South “heartbreaking,” especially in Alabama. The “federal government will do everything we can to help [people affected by the deadly storms] recover,” he said.
The White House said Obama will travel to Alabama on Friday.
Much of Pratt City, Ala., is now rubble after massive storms and tornadoes blew through the South, killing at least 294 people.