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US officials assess storm damage

Officials have been assessing the damage from a series of violent storms in the US south that left at least 44 people dead.

More than 240 tornadoes were reported from the storm system, including 62 in North Carolina, but the National Weather Service's final numbers could be lower because some tornadoes may have been reported more than once.

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue said she had never seen anything like the devastation, saying it appeared that homes had been handled like paper doll houses. Search-and-rescue teams were still operating all over the eastern part of the state, and federal officials were beginning their damage assessments, she said.

The violent weather began Thursday in Oklahoma, where two people died, before cutting across the Deep South on Friday and hitting North Carolina and Virginia on Saturday.

Authorities said seven people died in Arkansas; seven in Alabama; six in Virginia; and one in Mississippi. North Carolina's state emergency management agency said it had reports of 23 fatalities from Saturday's storms, but local officials confirmed only 21 deaths.

An apparent tornado passed near a Virginia nuclear power plant, knocking down power lines. Dominion Virginia Power said backup sources including diesel generators kept electricity going to maintain both units at its Surry power station. The tornado did not hit the two nuclear units, which are designed to withstand weather, earthquakes and hurricanes, the company said.

North Carolina officials tallied more than 130 serious injuries, 65 homes destroyed and another 600 significantly damaged by Sunday evening, according to state public safety spokeswoman Julia Jarema. Officials expect those totals to climb as damage assessments continue.

Ms Perdue spent the day touring areas in the eastern part of North Carolina, including Bertie County, where storms were the deadliest. She met victims, families of victims and emergency management officials.

"This is a hardly-pressed economic county to start with, and as you travel through here you see people who have lost every single thing they have in life and that takes a tremendous faith to overcome, but the faith is here," she said.

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