Okla. — A giant tornado, a mile wide or more, killed at least 51 people, 20 of
them children, as it tore across parts of Oklahoma City and its suburbs Monday
afternoon, flattening homes, flinging cars through the air and crushing at least
The injured flooded into hospitals, and the authorities said many people
remained trapped, even as rescue workers struggled to make their way through
debris-clogged streets to the devastated suburb of Moore, where much of the
Amy Elliott, the spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City medical examiner, said at
least 51 people had died, including the children, and officials said that toll
was likely to climb. Hospitals reported at least 145 people injured, 70 of them
Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore was reduced to a pile of twisted metal
and toppled walls. Rescue workers were able to pull several children from the
rubble, but on Monday evening crews were still struggling to cut through fallen
beams and clear debris amid reports that dozens of students were trapped. At
Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City, on the border with Moore, cars
were thrown through the facade and the roof was torn off.
“Numerous neighborhoods were completely leveled,” Sgt. Gary Knight of the
Oklahoma City Police Department said by telephone. “Neighborhoods just wiped
Debris and damage to roadways, along with heavy traffic, hindered emergency
responders as they raced to the affected areas, Sergeant Knight said.
A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office in Moore said emergency workers were
working to assess the damage.
“Please send us your prayers,” she said.
Brooke Cayot, a spokeswoman for Integris Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma
City, said 58 patients had come in by about 9 p.m. An additional 85 were being
treated at Oklahoma University Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
“They’ve been coming in minute by minute,” Ms. Cayot said.
The tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m., 16 minutes after the first warning went
out, and traveled for 20 miles, said Keli Pirtle, a spokeswoman for the National
Weather Service in Norman, Okla. It was on the ground for 40 minutes, she said.
It struck the town of Newcastle and traveled about 10 miles to Moore, a populous
suburb of Oklahoma City.
Ms. Pirtle said preliminary data suggested that it was a Category 4 tornado on
the Enhanced Fujita scale, which measures tornado strength on a scale of 0 to 5.
A definitive assessment will not be available until Tuesday, she said.
Moore was the scene of another huge tornado, in May 1999, in which winds reached
record speeds of 302 m.p.h.
Television on Monday showed destruction spread over a vast area, with blocks
upon blocks of homes and businesses destroyed. Residents, some partly clothed
and apparently caught by surprise, were shown picking through rubble. Several
structures were on fire, and cars had been tossed around, flipped over and
stacked on top of each other.
Kelcy Trowbridge, her husband and their three young children piled into their
neighbor’s cellar just outside of Moore and huddled together for about five
minutes, wrapped under a blanket as the tornado screamed above them, debris
smashing against the cellar door.
They emerged to find their home flattened and the family car resting upside down
a few houses away. Ms. Trowbridge’s husband rushed toward what was left of their
home and began sifting through the debris, then stopped and told her to call the
He had found the body of a little girl, about 2 or 3 years old, she said.
“He knew she was already gone,” Ms. Trowbridge said. “When the police got there,
he just bawled.”
She said: “My neighborhood is gone. It’s flattened. Demolished. The street is
gone. The next block over, it’s in pieces.”
Sarah Johnson was forced to rush from her home in Moore to a hospital as the
storm raged when her 4-year-old daughter, Shellbie, suffered an asthma attack.
With hail raining down, she put a hard hat on her daughter as she raced into the
emergency room and hunkered down.
“We knew it was coming — all the nurses were down on the ground, so we got down
on the ground,” Ms. Johnson said, from the Journey Church in nearby Norman,
where she had sought shelter.
At the hospital, she said, she shoved her daughter next to a wall and threw a
mattress on top of her. After the storm passed, she said, debris and medical
equipment were scattered around. She said she and her daughter were safe, but
she had yet to find her husband.
The storm system continued to churn through the region on Monday afternoon, and
forecasters warned that new tornadoes could form.
An earlier storm system spawned several tornadoes across Oklahoma on Sunday.
Several deaths were reported.
Russell Schneider, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, said the risk of tornadoes
throughout the region remained high going into Tuesday.
Some parts of Moore emerged seemingly untouched by the tornado. Bea Carruth, who
lives about 20 blocks from where the storm struck, said her home and others in
her neighborhood appeared to be fine.
Ms. Carruth had ridden out the tornado as she usually does, at her son’s house
nearby, the hail pounding away on the cellar where they had taken shelter.
Tornadoes have long been a part of life in Moore, she said.
In 1999, the last time a storm this size struck, Ms. Carruth again was lucky and
the home she lived in then was spared. She ended up buying an empty plot of land
where a house destroyed by that tornado once stood. Her house now sits on that
“This is just awful,” she said. “It all just breaks my heart.”
Okla. — On April 9, 1947, Wilma Lake was alone in her apartment on Oak Avenue
when a tornado swept through this rural town in the dark of night. She survived
— crouching beneath a table — but many of her neighbors did not.
That tornado killed at least 107 people in and around Woodward and destroyed
more than 1,000 homes and businesses in what would become the deadliest twister
ever to strike Oklahoma.
For Ms. Lake, then a 23-year-old office assistant, life went on: she would soon
become Mrs. Nelson, marrying Eldon Nelson, who was known as Bud, and raise three
children at 3412 Robin Drive. In graceful cursive, the brass knocker on the
front door read: The Nelsons.
Early Sunday morning, shortly after midnight, Mrs. Nelson, now 87, was home
alone again, on the city’s west side, in the house on Robin Drive, when an alert
came over her weather radio warning of a tornado spotted a few miles outside
Barefoot and in her pajamas, she stood inside a small closet in the master
bedroom, trying to get her son’s dog, a tan-and-white cocker spaniel named
Sugar, in with her. Sugar refused, so Mrs. Nelson shut the door.
“It was so fast,” she said. “I hadn’t been in there anytime at all until it was
like a bomb went off. I guess it was the roof blowing off.”
As happened 65 years ago, Mrs. Nelson survived, uninjured, even though a piece
of wallboard fell on her head. And this time, six of her neighbors died, in the
deadliest of a series of tornadoes that left a trail of destruction throughout
the central Plains late Saturday and early Sunday.
The tornado that struck Woodward was nowhere near as powerful as the one in the
1947. But for the handful of men and women in this city of 15,000 who survived
the earlier tornado, the devastation stirred painful memories.
The great tornado remains part of the lore and history of the place — the mural
on The Woodward News building has a swirling twister painted on it — but no one
thought anything like that would happen again.
On Monday afternoon, Mrs. Nelson went back to her house for the first time since
the tornado struck, injuring more than two dozen people and demolishing 89 homes
and 13 businesses as it cut a miles-long path through the city. Oklahoma
officials on Monday raised the death toll to six from five. Four of the victims
were children, including a 5-year-old girl and her 7-year-old sister.
For the most part, 3412 Robin Drive exists in name only. The tornado rendered it
a kind of half home: roofless, with caved-in white brick walls and shattered
glass. The closet in which Mrs. Nelson took shelter now has the equivalent of a
sunroof. The winds were so strong that a shard of a roof shingle pierced a
plastic bottle of hand soap next to the closet and stuck there, like a dart.
Around the corner, a 10,000-square-foot store called Carpet Direct was ripped to
shreds, with an upturned truck next to the wreckage.
As she surveyed the ruins of the home she shared with her late husband and the
rest of her family for 47 years, Mrs. Nelson said she was not sure what it all
means — surviving two of the worst nighttime tornadoes in Oklahoma history.
Mrs. Nelson, who turns 88 in July, stands 5-foot-2 and weighs 125 pounds, and
her survival seemed to defy logic.
“I think the Lord must have left me here for a purpose,” she said, chuckling.
Relatives and neighbors — even the state insurance commissioner, John D. Doak —
went to the house to greet Mrs. Nelson on Monday. As she sat in what remained of
her living room, a friend arrived and gave her a hug.
“I’m going to make it,” Mrs. Nelson told her, tears in her eyes. “I’m a toughie.
I told them at the hospital I was a tough old coot.”
Amid the destruction, the smallest things survived.
For 28 years, Mrs. Nelson kept a white bowl labeled “Grandma’s Goodies” on top
of the refrigerator, with candies for her grandchildren and other children in
the neighborhood. After the tornado, there it sat, without a crack in it. The
front door remained intact, too, the door knocker unscarred.
Mrs. Nelson said only one thing went through her mind as the roof tore loose. “I
was so worried about Sugar, and I just said, ‘Oh, God, take care of Sugar, take
care of Sugar,’ ” she said.
After the tornado hit, one of her grandsons, Shane Semmel, 38, was the first
relative to arrive at the house. Mrs. Nelson was in an ambulance parked outside.
“She wasn’t worried about her house or anything else,” Mr. Semmel said. “She was
worried about that dog.”
Mr. Semmel walked inside. Sugar was in the kitchen, covered in insulation. He
knelt down and checked her.
GROVE, Alabama | Sat Apr 30, 2011
By Verna Gates
GROVE, Alabama (Reuters) - The death toll from the second deadliest tornado
outbreak on record rose above 350 on Saturday as thousands of stunned survivors
camped out in the shattered shells of their homes or moved into shelters or with
With some estimates putting the number of homes and buildings destroyed close to
10,000, state and federal authorities in the U.S. South were still coming to
terms with the scale of the devastation from the country's worst natural
catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
One disaster risk modeler, EQECAT, is forecasting insured property losses of
between $2 billion and $5 billion from the havoc inflicted by the swarm of
violent twisters that gouged through seven southern states this week.
The death toll in Alabama, the hardest-hit state, rose to 255 on Saturday, with
at least 101 more deaths reported in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia,
Virginia and Louisiana.
"We're in the thousands of homes completely gone ... It's not an exaggeration to
say that whole communities were wiped out," Yasamie August, spokeswoman for the
Alabama Emergency Management Agency, told Reuters.
In many communities in the U.S. South, the scenes of destruction with tangled
piles of rubble, timber, vehicles and personal possessions recalled the
devastation seen in the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Power and water were still out in many areas.
"It is like living in some other world. Devastation is everywhere," said Pastor
John Gates of the United Methodist Church in Pleasant Grove, a community with a
population of some 10,000 west of Birmingham, Alabama.
The death toll from the week's tornado outbreak, which is still expected to
rise, was the second highest inflicted by this kind of weather phenomenon in
U.S. history. In March 1925, 747 people were killed after tornadoes hit the U.S.
Midwestern states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.
President Obama, mindful of criticism that President George W. Bush was too slow
to respond to the 2005 Katrina catastrophe, visited the wrecked city of
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on Friday to pledge full federal assistance for the states
NEIGHBORHOODS "LAID FLAT"
Some of the twisters -- the winds of one in Smithville, Mississippi, was
recorded reaching 205 miles per hour -- picked up people and cars and hurled
them through the air.
Rescuers were still searching for bodies and those unaccounted for. But the
total of missing was not clear.
Many whose homes only lost roofs and windows were camping inside with tarps and
plastic sheeting over them, but those whose houses were completely razed were
forced to move in with family or friends or go into government shelters.
"Most people are living in the parts of their houses that are still standing.
But for some people, you can't even tell where their houses were. They are with
family, friends or in hotels," said Gates, 63.
"We still have missing people to find," he added.
There were 659 people in shelters across Alabama, August said. Tennessee had 233
people in shelters.
As state and federal authorities increased efforts to clear rubble and provide
food and water to homeless survivors, volunteers in many local communities also
turned out to help the most affected.
"There's lots of commotion with big trucks coming in and the sound of chainsaws.
Big grills are set up everywhere to offer people food. The community has really
pulled together, said Tammy Straate, 29, a foster mother in Pleasant Grove who
cares for 11 children ages 5-16.
"For blocks and blocks, everything is just laid flat," Straate added. "Our
little community will never be the same. Some people say they are just not going
Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the U.S. South and Midwest, but they
are rarely so devastating.
Recovery could cost billions of dollars and even with federal disaster aid it
could complicate efforts by affected states to bounce back from recession.
The tornadoes mauled Alabama's poultry industry -- the state is the No. 3 U.S.
chicken producer -- halted a coal mine and hurt other manufacturers across the
The second-biggest U.S. nuclear power plant, the Browns Ferry facility in
Alabama, may be down for weeks after its power was knocked out and the plant
automatically shut, avoiding a nuclear disaster, officials said.
reporting by Colleen Jenkins
in St. Petersburg,
Peggy Gargis in Birmingham,
Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Eric Beech)
The New York Times
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Miss. — When Darwin Hathcock, the police chief, saw the funnel cloud beyond the
tree line just a couple of miles away, he knew that his town would not be
He called in the cloud sighting and phoned the mayor, who was at the town hall
with two employees, and then hurried to the tiny police station. With the storm
just 30 seconds away, he yelled for people to come inside and sent them to the
sturdiest room. Mr. Hathcock, 48, and his 24-year-old son, Joshua, were hunched
in a bathroom when the tornado arrived. Their ears felt close to bursting. They
could not breathe. And then they hurtled through the air, holding each other,
and landed 30 feet from the police station, battered, bloody but mostly intact,
the doorknob still in Joshua’s hand.
“There was no doubt in my mind that we were all going to die,” Mr. Hathcock
said. “It’s just the way the Lord done it. You can’t question the Lord. He don’t
Smithville, a spot of a town of about 1,000 where first names suffice and Bibles
lie within reach, endured a direct hit from Wednesday’s tornado in Mississippi.
So far, 14 people have been declared dead, including several children, and 23
others are missing. Crews were still searching for bodies behind the town’s
Fed by a nearby waterway, the tornado churned right along the main street,
Highway 25, chewing up houses and businesses, and shaking up the town like a
child with a snow globe. Three-quarters of the town is gone. Half of the houses
were demolished — splintered to bits or sunk in — and a quarter were badly
damaged. One-hundred-year-old oak trees toppled in seconds.
Mel’s Diner, where people settle in for a slice of homemade cake, is a pile of
rubble. Customers survived by cowering in the last thing left standing, the
walk-in cooler. A large storage shed flew in on the funnel cloud and landed next
Fourteen of the town’s other businesses also collapsed; only two survived mostly
in one piece, a gas station and an appliance shop. The police station, the town
hall, the post office, four of six churches: None of them were left standing.
“We crawled our way out of the building,” said Mayor Gregg Kennedy, 49. “Then I
bent over and I cried like a baby. It’s the only thing at that time I could do.”
Nearby towns have jumped in to help, setting up shelters, serving hamburgers,
sending in clothes. The Red Cross is here, as are other emergency services. Gov.
Haley Barbour stopped by Smithville, which is in the northeast corner of the
state, to offer assurances that more help was on the way. The governor said he
had rarely seen such destruction and mentioned that the casualty count might
“We know there is a tremendous amount of debris, and the possibility that the
waterways surrounding this area contain human remains,” Mr. Barbour said. “We
are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”
Most residents have moved in with relatives and friends in other towns. On
Friday, some returned to their homes to salvage what they could, but many did
not know where to start or what to pick up first: a shattered picture frame with
a wedding photo, an artificial flower arrangement, a dirty pink teddy bear.
But they had little trouble making peace with the tornado’s path.
“We are supposed to learn something from it,” said Mary Ann Nabors, as she swept
the porch of her antique store, the Pink Flamingo, in a building that had been
in her family for generations and was once a general store. It was considered
“the Wal-Mart of Smithville,” she said. “Hardship happens to you. I did not know
that all my life. When God sends you hardship, he is not taking something away.
He is giving you something better.”
As some of them looked around, it was hard not to think about the immediate
aftermath. The tornado stripped a few people of their clothes and covered them
in mud. Ruth Estis, who was blind and elderly, was pried from the arms of her
husband, Roy Lee Estis, and carried away. She died. Mr. Estis died that evening
when his heart gave out. The Cox family lost its father, Jessie, to the tornado,
while directly next door his son’s house sat untouched, one of the few.
As the storm neared, C. J. Thompson, a junior in high school, had huddled with
his family in the hallway of his house. His mother, just out of the shower, was
covered in a quilt. His best friend held the 2-year-old. The exchange student
from Belgium who was living with the family was in the corner.
“Pray, pray, pray!” shouted his mother, Marcie Pearce, as the tornado hit the
house. She recalled: “I felt it sucking me in, and stuff was hitting me in the
back of the head.”
Nobody in the house was badly hurt. But just paces away, neighbors could not
hold on. Making his way out of the rubble immediately after the storm, C. J.
found two of them dead. Around the back of the house, he saw two small children,
babies, he said. He took off his two T-shirts and draped them over their bodies.
His girlfriend he found unscathed in her bathtub.
Up the street, Caroline Boyd, 66, saw the funnel cloud from her window and ran
to her hallway. The storm sucked her into her den. It lifted up her house,
turned it like a spinning coin and then set it down again several feet from the
foundation. An oak tree fell next to it and anchored the house, keeping the wind
from hauling Mrs. Boyd and her home away.
“I felt the house swirling around,” she said. “Then it was gone.”
“I have been through cancer four times,” she said. “It just wasn’t my time to
go. But this house and that house yonder were not so lucky. There was death on
either side of me.”
Alabama (Reuters) - Tornadoes and violent storms tore through seven Southern
states, killing at least 306 people and causing billions of dollars of damage in
one of the deadliest swarm of twisters in U.S. history.
President Barack Obama described the loss of life as "heartbreaking" and called
the damage to homes and businesses "nothing short of catastrophic." He promised
strong federal support for rebuilding and plans to view the damage on Friday.
Over several days this week, the powerful tornadoes -- more than 160 reported in
total -- combined with storms to cut a swath of destruction heading west to
east. It was the worst U.S. natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005,
which killed up to 1,800 people.
In some areas, whole neighborhoods were flattened, cars flipped over and trees
and power lines felled, leaving tangled wreckage.
While rescue officials searched for survivors, some who sheltered in bathtubs,
closets and basements told of miraculous escapes. "I made it. I got in a closet,
put a pillow over my face and held on for dear life because it started sucking
me up," said Angela Smith of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, one of the worst-hit cities.
In Birmingham, Alabama, which was also hard hit, Police Chief A.C. Roper said
rescue workers sifted through rubble "hand to hand" on Thursday to pull people
from destroyed homes.
"We even rescued two babies, one that was trapped in a crib when the house fell
down on top of the baby," Roper said in an interview on PBS NewsHour.
Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the U.S. South and Midwest, but they
are rarely so devastating.
Wednesday was the deadliest day of tornadoes in the United States since 310
people lost their lives on April 3, 1974.
Given the apparent destruction, insurance experts were wary of estimating damage
costs, but believed they would run into the billions of dollars, with the worst
impact concentrated in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
"In terms of the ground-up damage and quite possibly the insured damage, this
event will be of historic proportions," Jose Miranda, an executive with the
catastrophe risk modeling firm EQECAT, told Reuters.
"I think this is going to rank up as one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S.
history," said Federal Emergency Management Agency director Craig Fugate.
Fugate spoke in an interview with CNN from Alabama, where his agency said the
tornadoes killed at least 204 people. There were still unconfirmed reports late
on Thursday of "entire towns flattened" in northern parts of the state, Fugate
"We're still trying to get people through rescues and locate the missing," he
In preliminary estimates, other states' officials reported 33 killed in
Mississippi, 34 in Tennessee, 11 in Arkansas, 14 in Georgia, eight in Virginia
and two in Louisiana.
The mile-wide monster twister that tore on Wednesday through Tuscaloosa, home to
the University of Alabama, may have been the biggest ever to hit the state,
AccuWeather.com meteorologist Josh Nagelberg said.
Obama said he would visit Alabama on Friday to see the damage and meet the
governor. He declared a state of emergency for Alabama and ordered federal aid.
"I want every American who has been affected by this disaster to know that the
federal government will do everything we can to help you recover, and we will
stand with you as you rebuild," Obama said at the White House.
Miranda said estimated costs would be "in the same ballpark" as an Oklahoma City
tornado outbreak in 1999 that caused $1.58 billion of damage and a 2003 tornado
outbreak in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma that caused $4.5 billion of
The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama was expected to be shut for
days, possibly weeks, as workers repaired damaged transmission lines.
But the backup systems worked as intended to prevent a partial meltdown like the
nuclear disaster in Japan.
The rampaging tornadoes and violent storms destroyed 200 chicken houses that
held up to 4 million chickens in Alabama, the No. 3 U.S. chicken producer.
They also battered a local coal mine.
Up to 1 million people in Alabama were left without power.
Daimler said it had shut down its Mercedes-Benz vehicle assembly plant in
Tuscaloosa until Monday due to the tornadoes, but the plant itself sustained
only minor damage.
Some of the worst devastation occurred in Tuscaloosa, a town of about 95,000 in
the west-central part of Alabama, where at least 37 people were killed,
including some students.
"It sounded like a chain-saw. You could hear the debris hitting things. All I
have left is a few clothes and tools that were too heavy for the storm to pick
up. It doesn't seem real," said student Steve Niven, 24.
"I can buy new things but you cannot replace the people. I feel sorry for those
who lost loved ones," Niven told Reuters.
The campus of the University of Alabama, home of the famous Crimson Tide
football team, was not badly damaged, but some students were killed off campus,
Shops, shopping malls, drug stores, gas stations and dry cleaners were all
flattened in one section of Tuscaloosa.
Alabama's governor declared a state of emergency and deployed 2,000 National
Guard members. Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia also declared
states of emergency.
Among the Alabama counties affected was Jefferson, which is struggling to avert
what would be the largest bankruptcy in municipal history over a $3.2 billion
The county suffered "widespread damage," a local emergency spokesman said, and
at least 17 people were killed.
reporting by Peggy Gargis in Birmingham
Ala. — From the crimson flags in store windows to the hotels that swell on
football weekends, this city lives and breathes the University of Alabama. So
when a tornado tore through Tuscaloosa this week — killing at least 36 and
leaving hundreds homeless a few miles from campus — shock replaced the
excitement that was building for graduation.
On Thursday, the university called off the rest of this school year — canceling
final exams and the last week of classes, and postponing graduation until
August. Although the storm spared the campus itself, the 30,000 students and
5,000 faculty members and staff at the state’s flagship university have felt the
Three students have been confirmed dead. At least 80 employees are missing, said
officials at Aramark, the campus food service provider. Dozens of homes rented
by students have been demolished. And displaced residents are now living on air
mattresses in the gymnasium.
“It’s impossible for something to affect Tuscaloosa without affecting the
university,” said Kelsey Stein, 21, a Spanish and journalism major who has been
writing about the storm for the student newspaper, The Crimson White. “It didn’t
cause any structural damage, but it made up for that in emotional impact.”
Tuscaloosa, a city of 93,000, suffered the highest death toll in Wednesday’s
storms. President Obama toured the devastated area on Friday, a few miles east
Ashkan Bayatpour, 26, a marketing graduate student, was inside his off-campus
house when the tornado struck. His roof collapsed. Trees crushed the rubble.
“I’ve been through Iraq. I’ve been through Katrina,” Mr. Bayatpour, a former
Navy enlisted man, said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The administration is advising students to leave campus as soon as possible.
Power returned on Friday morning, but water is still not safe to drink. If
students want to take exams, they can reschedule them with professors.
Otherwise, their grades will stay the same.
For seniors planning to graduate on May 7, the cancellation has been sudden and
jarring. They are scrambling to tell friends and family to cancel flight
reservations. “The end of my whole educational career just got blown away,” said
David Kumbroch, 21, a telecommunications and film major, who has no place to
live until power returns in Huntsville, Ala., where he was planning to move. “At
the end of this, everybody will know somebody who lost their lives or lost
On Friday, Laura Jones, 21, a math education major, was packing up clothes,
photographs and her computer, and preparing to move out of her sorority house.
Instead of attending end-of-the-year parties, she is helping to raise money to
donate to victims, and moving back in with her parents. Across campus, students
are accepting donated clothes, food and bottled water.
The university had no choice but to cancel the school year, said Cathy Andreen,
a university spokeswoman. “The city infrastructure really couldn’t even support
all of the students being here,” she said.
The student newspaper has been using Twitter and Facebook to report information
about missing or dead students. For most students, the primary concern is
tracking down classmates, Ms. Stein said.
“It would be selfish of people to worry about not graduating or not having
end-of-the-year parties, when other people are digging through the rubble of
their homes,” she said. “The university is the people, not the buildings.”
Devastating storms swept through the South on Wednesday, killing at least 60
people and spawning a tornado that tore through downtown Tuscaloosa, Ala. The
evening twister flattened homes and buildings and brought further damage and
death to a region already battered by storms.
Across Alabama, at least 50 people were killed by storms on Wednesday alone,
according to officials. The Associated Press reported an additional 11 deaths in
Mississippi, two in Georgia and one in Tennessee.
The tornado, one of several that struck the state, ripped through Tuscaloosa
about 5 p.m. on a northwest path.
It veered past a major medical center, a high school and the campus of the
University of Alabama. The extent of the damage was unclear Wednesday evening,
but officials said many people were still trapped in homes and buildings. They
feared the death toll could rise in the coming days.
Many parts of the state had been on a tornado watch throughout the day,
prompting schools, government offices and businesses to shut their doors early
or remain closed, Mayor Walter Maddox of Tuscaloosa said in an interview
“I believe at the end of the day that will have saved many lives,” he said of
the emergency measures. “We have so many reports of damage across the city. We
do believe it to be significant.”
Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the Jefferson County Emergency Management Office,
said the storm had picked up speed as it barreled out of Tuscaloosa and headed
for the western part of the county, passing north of downtown Birmingham, which
was battered by another storm early Wednesday morning.
Mr. Kelly said that he had gotten reports of roofs torn from homes, people
trapped in buildings, and power lines strewn across interstate roads, but that
crews were just beginning to respond. At least 11 people were killed in
Jefferson County on Wednesday, “but we expect that number will go up as search
and rescue efforts go on through the night and into tomorrow,” he said.
The damage from the tornados was made worse by earlier storms, which left the
ground so soaked that instead of the winds just snapping trees and branches,
they uprooted entire trees and tossed them onto power lines, said Michael
Sznajderman, a spokesman for the Alabama Power Company. He said at least 335,000
customers were without power, and with more storms on the way, “the number of
outages could be as high as what we saw with Hurricane Ivan or Hurricane
“It has already surpassed Hurricanes Dennis and Frederick,” he said. “We have
line crews on the way from as far away as Illinois to assist in the recovery.”
Power losses were widespread across the University of Alabama, where many
students were holed up after the tornado swept just south of the campus.
Emily Crawford, a third-year student at the law school, said she had been
preparing for an end-of-semester exam when the tornado swirled by. By nightfall
she was still at the law school, which had become a refuge for scores of
students, many of whom spoke of devastation in their neighborhoods worse than
they had seen reported from Hurricane Katrina.
“It is surreal,” Ms. Crawford said. “People are coming up to the law school
because they don’t have anywhere else to go. The school is sending buses into
town to pick up students and bring them back to campus so they have somewhere
safe to stay.”
The tornado was only the latest in a series that have struck the southern United
States this week, causing heavy rains and flooding in an area stretching from
Texas to Georgia, officials said Wednesday.
By Wednesday, the storms, which started Monday evening, had also left more than
50,000 people without power from East Texas to Memphis and destroyed scores of
homes as the system moved east into Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The storms
were expected to weaken before moving into the Carolinas and up the Eastern
Seaboard on Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
“Folks in the South should be getting some relief,” said Tom Bradshaw, a
meteorologist with the service.
By Wednesday afternoon, Arkansas and Alabama had declared states of emergency
after scores of buildings suffered significant damage, including many that had
their roofs sheared off.
Wind speeds have reached 135 miles per hour, and mobile homes have been tossed
about like toys, Mr. Bradshaw said. Accompanying rains and flash flooding have
hit northern Arkansas especially hard, killing at least six people since Monday.
Some parts of northern Arkansas have received 20 inches of rain during the past
On Wednesday, a levee on the Black River in northeastern Arkansas failed,
flooding local highways but causing no fatalities, officials said.
One of the victims killed this week was a Louisiana police officer who died
Tuesday night in Mississippi on a camping trip after he was struck by a tree
limb ripped off by high winds, emergency officials in Mississippi said. The
officer’s name has not yet been released.
contributed reporting from Birmingham, Ala.