According to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, at least 45 people people died during the storms in Tuscaloosa County, more than in any of the other five southern states that recorded deaths from Wednesday’s violent weather. Hundreds are unaccounted for in Tuscaloosa alone, though not all have been officially reported missing.
By early Saturday morning, emergency management officials tallied:
- 254 deaths in Alabama
- 34 in Tennessee
- 33 in Mississippi
- 15 in Georgia
- 5 in Virginia
- 1 in Arkansas
The storms also caused between $2 billion and $5 billion in insured losses across the region, according Eqecat. Eqecat provides state-of-the-art catastrophe risk models, software, data products and consulting for insurance and re/insurance industries.
Since 1680, there has been only one other date in U.S. history on which more people died during a severe weather outbreak. On March 18, 1925, a severe storm system swept across seven states killing 747 people, according to the National Weather Service.
Weather officials say the reason why so many perished was due to the size and path of the tornadoes. Meteorologists use the “Enhanced Fujita Scale” to rate the severity of tornadoes. The lowest ranking, EF-0, applies to twisters with recorded 3-second wind gusts of between 65 mph and 85 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The highest, an EF-5, is assigned to tornadoes with speeds of over 200 mph The weather service has so far recorded 11 tornadoes with EF-3 ratings or higher that struck central and north Alabama on Wednesday. Some of the twisters were three-quarters of a mile wide and traveled dozens of miles, experts said. An EF-4 touched down in Hackleburg, killing 29 people in the town of nearly 1,600 residents.
President Obama declared a major disaster in Alabama on Thursday night, an action that makes federal financing available for individuals, businesses and state and local governments. The White House announced on Friday afternoon that five cabinet members, including the secretaries of agriculture, housing and homeland security, would be traveling to Alabama and Mississippi on Sunday.
The tornado damaged two water tanks in Tuscaloosa, necessitating a boil-water advisory in much of the city — including parts of it that do not have electricity. The emergency operations centers in three of the affected counties have no power; in two of those there is no telephone service either. The countywide 911 system in Walker County is also down, according to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. About 1,000 workers were trying to restore electricity to nearly 260,000 customers of Alabama Power.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s electricity production system, which sells to seven states, lost more than 200 towers and other structures to the storm and left nearly 700,000 customers without power across several states. By the afternoon, power was again running through high-voltage lines that stretch across 21 of the damaged towers, but 561,000 customers were still without electricity. It will likely not be restored until next week, and the company is facing weeks of work and millions in repair costs.
Want to help? Donate to the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army or other national recovery groups working in the area.