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Terrifying twisters leave a trail of death across US

A furious storm system that kicked up tornadoes, flash floods and hailstones as big as grapefruits, has claimed at least 35 lives across the southern United States.

Emergency crews searched for victims in hard-hit swathes of North Carolina, where 62 tornadoes were reported during the worst spring storm in two decades to hit the state. Authorities warned the death toll was likely to rise today as searchers probed shattered homes and businesses.

The storm claimed its first lives on Thursday night in Oklahoma, then roared through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

They hit North Carolina and neighbouring Virginia on Saturday before the sprawling, potent storm bands moved eastward over the Atlantic. A rarely-seen multiple vortex tornado was captured on camera in Oklahoma.

In North Carolina, Governor Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency and said the 62 tornadoes reported were the most deadly since March 1984, when a storm system spawned 22 twisters in the Carolinas that killed 57 people and injured hundreds.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody in North Carolina who has been through this horrible day,” Ms Perdue said.

Authorities in North Carolina said they would provide more details of the death toll after checking on the reports of fatalities in at least four counties and in the capital city, Raleigh.

Search and rescue teams operated through the night, Ms Perdue said, with damage assessments starting in earnest today after daylight.

Police and rescue crews began conducting house-to-house searches yesterday at a mobile home park in north Raleigh, where the storm snapped some trees in half, ripped others out of the ground and tossed some |trailers from one side of a street to the other.

In Virginia, disaster officials said one apparent tornado ripped more than 12 miles through Gloucester County, along the Chesapeake Bay, uprooting trees and pounding homes to rubble while claiming three lives.

One person was killed in flash flooding elsewhere in the state, and another was missing.

Authorities said 10 people were confirmed dead after storms spawning tornadoes swept through a small eastern North Carolina county.

Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb said that one person was also missing.

He said authorities had identified nine of the dead but did not release their names or ages.

Factfile

A multiple vortex tornado contains several smaller funnels, known as subvortices, spinning around, inside of, and as part of the main vortex.

According to the Tornado Project, it is in some ways a tornado inside a tornado, and can be very intense, with both big and small vortices to create small areas of incredible damage.

The only times multiple vortices may be visible are when the tornado is first forming or when condensation and debris is balanced enough so that subvortices are apparent without being obscured.

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