Tornado outbreak second deadliest in U.S. history - WSFX - FOX Wilmington, NC

Tornado outbreak second deadliest in U.S. history

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Police look over demolished properties. Homes were ripped off of their slabs and thrown through the air. (Source: WSFA) Police look over demolished properties. Homes were ripped off of their slabs and thrown through the air. (Source: WSFA)
Large, long-track  tornados moved across land and left paths of destruction in their wake. (Source: WAFF) Large, long-track tornados moved across land and left paths of destruction in their wake. (Source: WAFF)
This building is all that is left of a shopping area that was wiped out by a tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL. (Source: WBRC) This building is all that is left of a shopping area that was wiped out by a tornado in Tuscaloosa, AL. (Source: WBRC)
Tornadoes swept across the south causing major damage to both rural and urban areas. (Source: WSFA) Tornadoes swept across the south causing major damage to both rural and urban areas. (Source: WSFA)

(RNN) - As the death toll keeps rising, a destructive storm that swept through the Southeast and killed more than 350 people is so far the second deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

Authorities and FEMA administrators said the fatality numbers from the devastating severe storms across the South have climbed to 354.

"Large tornado outbreaks like these are very rare," said Russell Schneider, director of the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center. "But during the days of the storms they seemed all too common, and these were very strong, violent tornadoes."

The largest death toll was on March 18, 1925, with 747 people being killed by storms that ripped through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

An earlier report by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley that three survivors had been pulled from rubble in Concord County on Saturday was later found to be false, the Governors' office said.

Total Statewide Fatalities

Alabama - 250

Tennessee - 34

Mississippi - 33

Georgia - 15

Arkansas - 14

Virginia - 5

Louisiana - 2

Kentucky - 1

President Barack Obama flew to Tuscaloosa, AL, to assess the damage firsthand that swept through the hardest-hit state, with 250 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries.

"I've never seen devastation like this," Obama said. "It's heartbreaking."

The storm swept through eight states, and by early Saturday morning, emergency management officials tallied 250 deaths in Alabama, 34 in Tennessee, 33 in Mississippi, 15 in Georgia, 14 in Arkansas, five in Virginia, two in Louisiana and one in Kentucky.

The University of Alabama canceled the rest of the school year so they could focus on the recovery and rebuilding of Tuscaloosa. The school's Bryant-Denny Stadium is serving as Tuscaloosa's emergency management center as the city's facility was destroyed in the storm.

"These steps are being taken to allow students impacted by the storms to return to their homes while recovery efforts continue in the Tuscaloosa area," said an email sent to students Thursday afternoon.

Obama promised to bring all resources possible to help aid the disaster stricken region, not only in Alabama, but anywhere affected.

"In addition to keeping all the families who've been affected in our thoughts and prayers, obviously our biggest priority now is to help communities recover," Obama said. "We're going to make a commitment to do everything we can to partner with all regions affected."

Deadliest Tornadoes in U.S. History

1.) March 18, 1925: 747 people killed after tornadoes hit Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.

2.) April 27, 2011: At least 354 died across eight states.

3.) March 21, 1932: 332 killed, most of them in Alabama, in a wave of tornadoes across the Southeast.

4.) May 17, 1840: 317 died, nearly all of them in the city of Natchez, MS, after tornadoes hit Louisiana and Mississippi.

5.) April 3, 1974: 310 killed in what is known as the "Super Outbreak" when 148 tornadoes rampaged across 13 states over a 24-hour period.

Not only was this storm one of the most destructive storms in history, April 2011 alone is a record breaking month for severe weather.

"April 2011 has set a record for the most number of tornadoes ever observed in a calendar month in the U.S.," said Harold Brooks, Research Meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "For the month of April we're estimating that more than 600 tornadoes have occurred."

According to the White House, several senior administration officials will travel to Alabama and Mississippi on Sunday, including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan to get recovery and rebuilding moving fast for these hard hit communities.

Smithville, MS, was hit with an EF-5 tornado, which is the NWS most devastating category.

NWS Meteorologist Jim LaDue said he expects many more of the destructive tornadoes to receive the same rating, with winds topping 200 mph.

The half- mile wide tornado was the first EF-5 tornado in Mississippi in 45 years, the last when an EF-5 struck Jackson in 1966.

First responders are still attempting to recover survivors, and completing preliminary assessments of the force and destruction generated by the tornadoes.

"The state and FEMA are still doing preliminary damage assessments," said Tommy Jackson with the Arkansas Emergency Management Association. "We really need to look into the damage and destruction to see if we may ask for federal disaster assistance. I can't even imagine the total it would cost to rebuild all communities affected."

Recovery after such a catastrophe will not be easy, given the magnitude of damage across the swathe of states, but it is underway.

Copyright 2011 RNN. All rights reserved.

 

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