The death toll from a historic tornado outbreak topped 300, as rescuers in seven Southern states sifted through the wreckage Thursday left by the nation’s deadliest disaster since Hurricane Katrina.
At least 164 tornadoes were reported across the region, stretching from Louisiana to Virginia, destroying homes, businesses, and nearly everything else in their path.
Experts say that the United States had not seen so much destruction from a series of twisters in 37 years and that Wednesday’s storm system may go down as the most destructive tornado outbreak in eight decades.
Alabama suffered the most fatalities, with more than 200 confirmed dead. In preliminary estimates, government officials say that 34 were killed in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 14 in Georgia, 11 in Arkansas, eight in Virginia, and two in Louisiana, Reuters reports.
To put the devastation in perspective, the still-preliminary death toll is more than the total number of people who died in tornadoes from 2008 through 2010, according to records kept by the National Weather Service. (Slate's Chris Wilson has put together an interactive map that shows half of those killed between '08-'10 were in a mobile home at the time.)
The Associated Press:
The death toll from Wednesday’s storms seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.
The Washington Post:
Alabama took the most brutal pounding, the entire state scarred by a monster funnel cloud that crossed the state on a track that struck Tuscaloosa head-on and chewed through the Birmingham suburbs before exiting into Georgia. At least 204 Alabamans lost their lives.
“This place looks like a war zone,” Jackie Wuska Hurt, director of development for the honors college at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, wrote in an e-mail. “Folks looked like refugees walking single file with suitcases or grocery carts of their belongings down the sidewalks of University Boulevard.”
President Obama is scheduled to fly to Alabama on Friday to survey the damage and talk to local officials before traveling to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to watch the space shuttle Endeavor launch.