Tornadoes pummel southern US, 43 dead
Updated: 2011-04-18 09:16
A member of the Sanford Fire Department walks past the damage at Lowe's Home Improvement store after a tornado in Sanford, North Carolina, April 17, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]
RALEIGH, North Carolina - Three days of violent storms and tornadoes across the southern United States killed at least 43 people, wrecked hundreds of buildings and downed power lines, officials said on Sunday.
Houses were flattened, cars and trucks tossed like matchsticks and planes blown off the tarmac at a local airport. Uprooted trees, poles and debris snapped power lines, cutting electricity to more than 200,000 people in North Carolina.
A store manager for home improvement chain Lowe's in Sanford, North Carolina, was credited for saving customers and staff when she directed them to the back of the store just before a tornado peeled its roof off, news media reported.
"I've seen a lot of damage in North Carolina over the years, but this is the most catastrophic I have ever seen. The destruction is massive," North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue told CBS News after touring the worst hit areas of the state.
"We have 23 counties that are really really hurt badly, lots of tremendous property damage, schools lost, infrastructure damage," said Perdue. She said President Barack Obama had pledged "whatever it takes to rebuild North Carolina."
Tornadoes moved through 13 other states, including Virginia, where officials reported four deaths and unconfirmed reports of three more. Virginia emergency officials said that 177 structures were damaged by the severe weather.
Dominion Virginia Power said the two nuclear reactors at its Surry Power Station in southeastern Virginia shut down automatically on Saturday when an apparent tornado touched down and cut off an electrical feed to the station.
Backup generators operated normally and both units "are in safe and stable condition," the utility said in a statement.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah said on Sunday no radiation was released during the storm and shutdown. "Everything worked the way it should," he said.
AccuWeather.com meteorologist Andy Mussoline said the storms appeared to be the deadliest in the United States since February 2008, when 57 people died in two days from tornadoes in the South and Ohio Valley.
The storms began in Oklahoma on Thursday, moved through the South and hit the East Coast by Saturday. A total of 241 tornadoes were reported and 50 confirmed. The death toll included seven people in Alabama, seven in Arkansas, two in Oklahoma and one in Mississippi.
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