April 28, 2011

Alabama Devastating Tornadoes: 194 Deaths

Alabama Breaking News
written by George Talbot Press-Register
Thursday, April 28, 2011, 3:35pm

The images were horrific: Homes flattened, trees uprooted and vehicles tossed like so many tumbling dice.

As the sun rose today, hours after a massive series of storms blasted through the Deep South, the scale of the devastation in hardest-hit Alabama was still taking shape. State officials confirmed 194 deaths but said they expected the death toll to rise; as many as 1 million were without power.

Dozens of tornadoes roared through north-central Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia on Wednesday, splintering towns and families in one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history. The worst of it fell along a path that began in Tuscaloosa and stretched eastward through Birmingham, where 100-mph winds crushed houses, schools and businesses.

"There is massive devastation out there," a grim Gov. Robert Bentley said during an appearance today on Good Morning America.

Bentley, a Tuscaloosa native, declared a state of emergency and mobilized about 2,000 Alabama National Guardsmen. He said emergency responders were still trying to locate survivors and identify the bodies of the deceased.

"Right now, it's search and rescue," he said.

Across the Southeast, more than 200 were confirmed dead in one of the deadliest outbreaks in nearly 40 years. Dave Imy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the number of deaths was the most in a tornado outbreak since 1974, when 315 people died.

Ominous scenes of the approaching storm - and later, its destructive wake - were captured on hundreds of cell phones and splashed across Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

"Tuscaloosa looks like a bomb dropped on it," wrote Yenu Wodajo, a reporter for ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, in a Twitter message and photo that received thousands of hits.

Video of a massive, mile-wide tornado looming past Bryant-Denny Stadium - a Tuscaloosa icon - also went viral. Dramatic images of the F-5 storm - the most powerful on a scale for measuring wind intensity - were recorded by news cameras as it barreled through the city's downtown. Time magazine labeled the clips as "the most astonishing amateur storm footage ever."

The storm's violent winds and flooding rain alarmed even the most grizzled storm veterans.

"Pray for Tuscaloosa!" Jim Cantore, famed meteorologist and storm-chaser for The Weather Channel, said in a message posted to Twitter as the storm neared.

By nightfall, the city was dark. Roads were impassable. Signs were blown down in front of restaurants, businesses were unrecognizable and sirens wailed off and on. Debris littered the streets and sidewalks.

Similar scenes were recorded in neighborhoods across Birmingham, the state's most populous city, and in dozens of rural communities throughout eastern Alabama.

"We were in the bathroom holding on to each other and holding on to dear life," said Samantha Nail, who lives in a blue-collar subdivision in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove where the storm slammed heavy pickup trucks into ditches and obliterated tidy brick houses, leaving behind a mess of mattresses, electronics and children's toys scattered across a grassy plain where dozens used to live. "If it wasn't for our concrete walls, our home would be gone like the rest of them."

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

there are now at least 334 reported deaths. phil campbell, alabama lost 30 people. from a town with less than 2000 that is alot, including an 8 yr old girl. keep Bama in your thoughts.