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US storms death toll reaches 340

Church groups, students and other volunteers have worked to bring food, water and other necessities to communities in southern states ravaged by the second-deadliest day of tornadoes in US history.

Across the south, volunteers have been pitching in as the death toll from Wednesday's storms keeps rising.

At least 340 people were killed across seven states, including at least 249 in Alabama, as the storm system spawned tornadoes through several states. There were 34 deaths in Mississippi, 34 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia, two in Louisiana and one in Kentucky.

It was the largest death toll since March 18, 1925, when 747 people were killed in storms that raged through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. That was long before the days when Doppler radar could warn communities of severe weather.

Forecasters have said residents were told these tornadoes were coming, but they were just too wide and powerful and in populated areas to avoid the horrifying body count.

Thousands of people were injured - 990 in Tuscaloosa alone - and thousands of properties were destroyed. As many as one million Alabama homes and businesses remained without power.

This week's tornadoes devastated the infrastructure of emergency safety workers. Emergency buildings were wiped out, bodies were being stored in refrigerated trucks, and authorities were left to beg for such basics as torches. In one neighbourhood, the storms even left firefighters working without a truck.

Volunteers stepped in to help almost as soon as the storms passed through, ditching their jobs, shelling out pay cheques, donating blood and even sneaking past police blockades to get aid to some of the hardest-hit communities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has officials on the ground in five states, including Alabama. Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox has called the disaster a "humanitarian crisis" for his city of more than 83,000 - but he credited volunteers with keeping the situation there from spiralling out of control.

The scale of the disaster astonished President Barack Obama when he arrived in the state on Friday. "I've never seen devastation like this," he said, standing in sunshine amid the wreckage in Tuscaloosa, where entire neighbourhoods were flattened.


From Belfast Telegraph