(WNS)--Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out entire towns across a wide swath of the South, killing more than 248 people, and officials said they expect the death toll to rise.
Alabama’s state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 162 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 32 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia, and one in Kentucky.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports in the region into Wednesday night.
One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, Ala., 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.
A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barreled through the city late on Apr. 27, leveling 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 Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets. About 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed in the state.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team had staff on the ground in Birmingham within hours of the tornado hits. Chaplains were addressing the emotional and spiritual needs of tornado survivors in and around Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
“The swath of devastation that has ripped through the South and brought so much death and destruction is stunning,” said Preston Parrish, executive vice president of ministry at BGEA. “The overwhelming sense of loss - for those who lost their homes, and especially for those who lost loved ones - will be nearly unbearable for many. We want those suffering to know that Christ cares for them, that we are praying for them, and we will be standing beside them.”
The Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi (ALM) Division of The Salvation Army has mobilized 10 feeding units and a communications unit. Another 22 mobile feeding units including catering trucks, mobile kitchens, and a 20,000 meal per day full service field kitchen have been placed on standby. Units are providing food, beverage, and spiritual support to storm victims in Tuscaloosa, Guntersville, and Lauderdale County, Alabama as well as Montpelier and Oxford, Mississippi. Mobile feeding units from the Kentucky-Tennessee Division (KTN) are serving victims in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee.
Additional Salvation Army EDS feeding units are currently in route to affected areas throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Salvation Army EDS personnel and mobile feeding units currently on standby in Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Maryland and West Virginia will be deployed.
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Publication date: April 29, 2011