Trail of de­struc­tion

At least 294 killed in mon­ster storms across the South

Red Eye Chicago - - Newsflash -

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.

REUTERS

Much of Pratt City, Ala., is now rub­ble af­ter mas­sive storms and tor­na­does blew through the South, killing at least 294 peo­ple.

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