A large storm system swept across the South Wednesday, spawning dozens of tornadoes and killing at least 200 people. As AP reported:
• Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out neighborhoods across a wide swath of the South, killing at least 209 people in the deadliest outbreak in nearly 40 years, and officials said Thursday they expected the death toll to rise.
Alabama’s state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 131 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 24 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 around the region into Wednesday night.
“We were in the bathroom holding on to each other and holding on to dear life,” said Samantha Nail, who lives in a blue-collar subdivision in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove where the storm slammed heavy pickup trucks into ditches and obliterated tidy brick houses, leaving behind a mess of mattresses, electronics and children’s toys scattered across a grassy plain where dozens used to live. “If it wasn’t for our concrete walls, our home would be gone like the rest of them.”
The rare storm system has set the record for tornadoes in April since 1954, when around 400 tornadoes were recorded in the same month. As Capital Weather Gang explained:
• The devastating tornadoes that chewed up swaths of the South and Southeast Wednesday were rare, mile-wide plus beasts, causing hideous damage, including denuded trees, flattened buildings, and pancaked cars. Death totals have climbed to at least 85 people. Thanks to the 139 tornadoes reported (this number will change as the National Weather Service conducts their damage assessments), April 2011 has now almost certainly seen more tornadoes than any other April on record since 1954 when an estimated 407 tornadoes descended from the heavens.
Similar to the tornado outbreak on April 14-16, during which dozens of tornadoes affected states from Texas to Virginia, the latest outbreak was accompanied by unprecedented media coverage via social media as well as television coverage and livestreaming Web video. The most gripping and heart-wrenching coverage came from ABC 33/40 TV in Alabama, which aired live footage from a Skycam tower in Tuscaloosa as it captured a massive tornado moving through that city, leaving parts of it in absolute shambles and killing many.
In a surreal twist, wreckage from Tuscaloosa made it onto The Weather Channel, albeit about a half hour later and 50 miles away, as pieces of sheet metal and other debris rained down onto a bewildered Jeff Morrow in Birmingham, a veteran meteorologist for the network. Morrow then stared helplessly as the same tornado barreled across northern Birmingham.
Funnel clouds were reported as far north as Virginia, with the state recording eight deaths thus far from the storm system. As PostLocal reported:
• The atmospheric drama that has been sowing death and destruction elsewhere in the nation swept through the region Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, but the Washington area appeared to escape the worst of the storms.
Western and southern Virginia weren’t so lucky. Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency after eight people were killed and more than 50 were injured by tornadoes and severe weather across the state. The move will allow Virginia agencies to assist local governments in the clean up.
Tornado warnings were issued across the D.C. suburbs early Thursday morning. Fast-moving bands of storms packed high winds and torrential rains. A funnel cloud formed over Point of Rocks in Frederick County shortly before 7 a.m., according to the National Weather Service, but there were no reports of tornadoes touching down in the immediate area Thursday morning.
More from The Washington Post
BlogPost: Tornadoes tear through the South
Capital Weather Gang: Tornado and flash flood warning updates