Thursday, April 28, 2011

Southern storms death toll nears 300

Dazed Southerners on Thursday reassured one another and began the procedure of rebuilding after a barrage of storms maintained nearly 300 lives and reduced once-familiar neighborhoods to piles of bricks and lumber.

The grim death toll from the 24-hour storm period sustained 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 rotten, 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 expressively. When I fly over this, it is hard."

The South endured the second deadliest tornado outbreak in the nation's history since 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, said Mayor Walter Maddox. Infrastructure losses are ache revival efforts, he said.

The storms are being compared to the "super outbreak" of tornadoes April 3 and 4, 1974, Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator, said Thursday. In that period, 148 tornadoes were reported in 13 states, and 330 people died. States affected were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.