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The storms that roared across the South last week killed 342 people (AP)

The storms that roared across the South last week killed 342 people (AP)

The storms that roared across the South last week killed 342 people (AP)

The storms that roared across the South last week killed 342 people (AP)

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The storms that roared across the South last week killed 342 people (AP)

Thousands of people still reeling from the second-deadliest day of tornadoes in US history streamed into houses of worship across the US South to give thanks for being spared and mourn the hundreds killed.

The storms that roared across the South last week flattened churches and crushed the homes of pastors and parishioners in a ragged stretch from Mississippi to Virginia. At least 342 people were killed, including 250 in Alabama, and thousands more were hurt.

There were also 35 deaths in Mississippi, 34 in Tennessee, 15 in Georgia, five in Virginia, two in Louisiana and one in Kentucky.

Thousands of homes are still without power. The Red Cross has opened emergency shelters and the enormous task for authorities of finding more permanent housing for the thousands without homes now begins in earnest this week.

Authorities also are seeking the missing, aided by cadaver-sniffing dogs, amid fears the death toll could yet rise.

In Alabama, 2,000 National Guard troops have been dispatched to help residents and keep the peace. Many blocked off roads or patrolled neighbourhoods to keep away spectators and looters.

Seeking to speed recovery, homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano led a delegation of senior government officials to tour hard-hit areas in Alabama and Mississippi to pledge support for residents.

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After touring devastated areas, Ms Napolitano told reporters: "I don't think words can fairly express the level of devastation. I'm not articulate enough."

President Barack Obama, who visited Alabama on Friday, has already signed disaster declarations for those two states and Georgia.

In most small towns in the area, churches serve as community centres, town halls and gymnasiums. Some churches were wiped out and some of those left standing have become headquarters for rebuilding.


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