At Least 72 People Die in Storms Across the South

MONTGOMERY, Alabama,, April 27, 2011 (ENS) – Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms claimed the lives of at least 72 people across the South on Wednesday, and the death toll is expected to rise as search and rescue workers comb ruined buildings.

Fifty-eight people died today in Alabama alone. Officials reported 11 additional deaths in Mississippi, two in Georgia and one in Tennessee. The total number of storm-related deaths across the South on Wednesday amounts to at least 72.

As of midnight, EST, there have been 138 reports of tornadoes, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Most of these tornadoes have touched down in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, and many have been large, powerful twisters.

Tornado looms over Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Photo by Wes Chapman)

A deadly tornado a mile wide ripped through downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama Wednesday night, killing at least 15 people, injuring more than 100 others, toppling buildings and trees, and causing power outages. Officials said many people are still trapped in damaged homes and buildings.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox said in a statement, “The city experienced widespread damage from a tornado that cut a path of destruction deep into the heart of the city.”

Alabama Power reported at 8 pm that there were 375,000 Alabama residents without power.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today declared a State of Emergency as tornados, severe thunderstorms, hail, and straight line winds blasted through the state. He warned Alabama residents that even more severe weather is expected.

Governor Bentley has mobilized 1,400 Alabama National Guardsmen to provide emergency assistance to stricken counties. The guardsmen will be on the ground early Thursday to help conduct search and rescue operations, coordinate debris removal and provide security assistance to local law enforcement agencies.

“I have activated the Alabama National Guard to provide assistance whenever and wherever they are needed to help our local communities that have experienced widespread destruction today,” said Governor Bentley. “These guardsmen are well trained and will take every action necessary to protect lives and property in this emergency.”

President Barack Obama offered condolences and federal assistance. “Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives because of the tornadoes that have swept through Alabama and the southeastern United States,” Obama said. “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.”

“I just spoke to Governor Bentley and told him that I have ordered the federal government to move quickly in our response and informed him that I approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets,” said the President. “While we may not know the extent of the damage for days, we will continue to monitor these severe storms across the country and stand ready to continue to help the people of Alabama and all citizens affected by these storms.”

The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma has issued a tornado watch for portions of eastern Alabama, northern and central Georgia, western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina effective Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

“This is a particularly dangerous situation,” the Storm Prediction Denter said, forecasting “destructive tornadoes, large hail to two inches in diameter, thunderstorm wind gusts to 70 mpg and dangerous lightning.”

A storm system extending from the Great Lakes southward to the Texas Gulf Coast combined with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico brought another day of rain and severe thunderstorms to much of the region Wednesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has pre-staged emergency commodities across the United States and has staff on standby should they be needed to support state and local emergency response operations.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.