Over 300 dead in U.S. storms

April 30, 2011 - 0:0

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AFP/New York Times) — Shocked Americans on Friday sifted through the rubble from the worst U.S. tornadoes in decades, which carved a trail of destruction across the south claiming at least 313 lives.

Communities like Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's home town of Tuscaloosa were virtually wiped off the map, and officials warned the body count would rise as rescuers uncovered more dead in the debris, AFP reported.
Disbelief was written on faces across eight states crippled by the ferocious spring storms -- the deadliest tornado tragedy to strike the United States since 332 people were killed by a tornado outbreak on March 21, 1932.
Recalling the more recent horror of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, families picked through the remains of homes, businesses and schools, bearing witness to scenes of devastation more common in war zones or after earthquakes.
In Alabama, the worst-hit state, the toll reached 210, with more than 1,700 injured and up to a million people left without power.
U.S. President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle were to travel to the state on Friday for a first-hand look at a still unfolding human tragedy.
""The loss of life has been heartbreaking, especially in Alabama,"" Obama said, describing the disaster as ""nothing short of catastrophic.""
Obama has declared a ""major disaster"" in Alabama and ordered federal aid to state and local recovery efforts, including grants for temporary housing and home repairs and loans to cover uninsured property damage.
According to The New York Times, thousands have been injured, and untold more have been left homeless, hauling their belongings in garbage bags or rooting through disgorged piles of wood and siding to find anything salvageable.
By Friday morning, gasoline and other supplies were getting difficult to find in parts of Alabama. County emergency directors cautioned people to not show up to help.
“They don’t yet have an infrastructure to handle donations or volunteers,” Phyllis Little, the Coleman County emergency management director, told a Birmingham television station. “Right now, we’re not in a ready mode to receive donations or volunteers yet. We are working toward that. Hopefully by tomorrow or Sunday, I’ll have better answers.”
In Pleasant Grove, Ala., a community near Birmingham where nine people died, a church was taking food donations — hamburgers, corn dogs, bottled water — and serving as a makeshift kitchen for hundreds of people who are now homeless. In other areas, the Red Cross is providing meals at shelters.
While Alabama was hit the hardest, the storm spared few states across the South. Thirty-three people were reported dead in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 15 in Georgia, 5 in Virginia and one in Kentucky, according to The Associated Press. With search and rescue crews still climbing through debris and making their way down tree-strewn country roads, the toll is expected to rise.
“History tells me estimating deaths is a bad business,” said W. Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, in a conference call with reporters.
Cries could be heard into the night here in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday, but on Thursday hope was dwindling. Mayor Walt Maddox said that the search and rescue operation would go for 24 to 48 more hours, before the response pivoted its focus to recovery.
“They’re looking for five kids in this rubble here,” said Lathesia Jackson-Gibson, 33, a nurse, pointing to the incoherent heap of planks and household appliances sitting next to the muddled guts of her own house. “They’re mostly small kids.”
Photo: States of emergency were declared from Alabama to Virginia. People sifted through their belongings in Tuscaloosa. (AP photo)