Thursday, May 1, 2014

At Least 34 Killed As Tornadoes and Storms Rake Through Southeastern USA

After a fairly quiet start to the tornado season, a major storm system moving over Texas and Oklahoma spawned at least 60 tornadoes in the southeast over the last couple of days, as well as some flooding along the Gulf Coast and mid-Atlantic.

The tornado that struck Faulkner County, Arkansas on Sunday was reportedly the deadliest tornado to strike the state in nearly 17 years as it killed 15 people, most of them around the town of Mayflower, AR.

Deadly twisters also tore through Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia over the next two days while the storm also saturated rivers and caused flooding along Alabama's Gulf Coast and Florida's panhandle before moving to the northeast.

More than 60 million people from southeastern Michigan to the central Gulf Coast to the Carolinas and southern Virginia were at risk of severe storms and tornadoes, AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said Tuesday.

Mississippi and Alabama remained the states with the highest risk of severe weather, with cities such as Meridian, Miss., and Birmingham, Ala., in the cross hairs for tornadoes, the weather service said.

Mississippi was hit the hardest Monday. The tornado that struck the Louisville, Miss., area was given a preliminary rating of at least EF4 by the National Weather Service. EF4 tornadoes have winds of 166-200 mph, making the Louisville twister the most powerful one to hit the USA this year.

Twelve deaths were reported in the state, nine of them in and around Louisville, a town of about 6,600 people. State Sen. Giles Ward said he was huddled in a bathroom with his wife, four other family members and their dog Monday night as a tornado destroyed his two-story brick house and turned his son-in-law's SUV upside down onto the patio in Louisville.

In Tupelo, Miss., dozens of buildings were damaged and 30 people sought treatment at Northeast Mississippi Medical Center. Four people were admitted.

Two deaths were reported in Tennessee. In Lincoln County, the National Weather Service lifted an initial tornado warning shortly after 7 p.m. Monday, but at 8:24 p.m. it warned a tornado was coming. "Catastrophic damage likely with storm in Lincoln County," the message read. "170 (knots) of rotation with debris extending above 20,000 feet."

Within minutes, the warnings grew more dire with winds exceeding 190 mph, The Tennessean reported. Two people were killed in Lincoln County and several homes were destroyed, The Tennessean reports.

The warning seemingly came out of nowhere, said Chris Murdock, who lives 4 miles from a damaged elementary school. Although he and his family didn't see the tornado, the gusts and hail they saw as they went to a friend's basement were enough for him to know this wasn't an average spring storm.

"Just by the looks of it, you could tell something terrible was happening," he said.

In Alabama, University of Alabama student John Servati, a member of the Crimson Tide swim team, was killed when he took shelter in the basement of a Tuscaloosa home and a retaining wall collapsed on him. In Athens, Ala., the Limestone County Sheriff's Department reported two deaths from a twister that hit a mobile home park west of the town.

In Baltimore, the storm dumped 7 inches of rain onto the area and triggered landslides and sinkholes in some parts of Maryland. Further north, local officials in Philadelphia estimated that the flooding was worse than 2012 superstorm Sandy and at least 60 people had to be rescued from their vehicles as they tried traversing flooded streets and roadways.

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