The fierce storms on Wednesday spawned tornadoes and winds that wiped out homes and businesses, forced a nuclear power plant to use backup generators and prompted the evacuation of a National Weather Service offic
The death toll from severe storms that punished five Southern U.S. states jumped to a staggering 193 on Thursday after Alabama canvassed its hard—hit counties for a new tally of lives lost.
Alabama’s state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 128 deaths, up from at least 61 earlier.
“We expect that toll, unfortunately, to rise,” Gov. Robert Bentley told ABC television.
Mississippi officials reported 32 dead in that state and Tennessee raised its report to 14. Another 11 have been killed in Georgia and eight in Virginia.
The fierce storms on Wednesday spawned tornadoes and winds that wiped out homes and businesses, forced a nuclear power plant to use backup generators and prompted the evacuation of a National Weather Service office.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma, said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions, including 66 in Alabama and 38 in Mississippi.
One of the hardest—hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama. The city’s police and other emergency services were devastated, the mayor said, and at least 15 people were killed and about 100 were in a single hospital.
A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barrelled through the city late Wednesday afternoon, levelling it.
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.
The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out.
The governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.
President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Mr. Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets. About 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed around the state.
“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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.
Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled by downed trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in medians.
“What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time,” Mayor Walter Maddox said.
University officials said there didn’t appear to be significant damage on campus, and dozens of students and locals were staying at a 125—bed shelter in the campus recreation centre.
Volunteers and staff were providing food and water to people like 29—year—old civil engineering graduate student Kenyona Pierce.
“I really don’t know if I have a home to go to,” she said.
Storms also struck Birmingham, felling numerous trees that impeded emergency responders and those trying to leave hard—hit areas.
The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Huntsville lost offsite power. The Tennessee Valley Authority—owned plant had to use seven diesel generators to power the plant’s three units. The safety systems operated as needed and the emergency event was classified as the lowest of four levels, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.