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Storm system pounds South, killing 77 people; Ala. bears brunt of deaths

Karl Rhodes looked at the damage to a house in Florence, Ala., after storms caused a large tree to fall Tuesday. Karl Rhodes looked at the damage to a house in Florence, Ala., after storms caused a large tree to fall Tuesday. (Jim Hannon/ Timesdaily via Associated Press)
Associated Press / April 28, 2011

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A wave of tornado-spawning storms strafed the South yesterday, splintering buildings across hard-hit Alabama and killing 77 people in four states.

At least 61 people died in Alabama alone, including 15 or more when a massive tornado devastated Tuscaloosa. The mayor said sections of the city that is home to the University of Alabama have been destroyed, and the city’s infrastructure is devastated.

Eleven deaths were reported in Mississippi, four in Georgia, and one in Tennessee.

News footage showed paramedics lifting a child out of a flattened Tuscaloosa home, with many neighboring buildings in the city of more than 83,000 reduced to rubble. A hospital there said its emergency room admitted at least 100 people.

“What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time,’’ Mayor Walter Maddox told reporters, adding that he expected his city’s death toll to rise.

The storm system spread destruction Tuesday night and yesterday from Texas to Georgia, and it was forecast to hit the Carolinas next before moving further northeast.

President Obama said he had spoken with Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama and approved his request for emergency federal assistance.

Maddox said authorities were having trouble communicating, and 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed around the state. The flashing lights of emergency vehicles could be seen on darkened streets all over town, and some were using winches to remove flipped vehicles from the roadside.

Storms struck Birmingham earlier in the day, felling numerous trees that impeded emergency responders and those trying to leave hard-hit areas. Surrounding Jefferson County reported 11 deaths by late yesterday; another hard-hit area was Walker County with eight deaths. The rest of the deaths were scattered around the state, emergency officials said.

In Huntsville, meteorologists found themselves in the path of tornado and had to evacuate the National Weather Service office.

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