PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. - (AP) - At least 291 people were killedacross six states - more than two-thirds of them in Alabama - asAmerica's deadliest tornado outbreak in almost four decadespulverized entire neighborhoods.
Firefighters searched one splintered pile after another forsurvivors Thursday, combing the remains of houses and neighborhoodsof large large cities that bore the half-mile (one kilometer)-widescars the twisters left behind.
The death toll from Wednesday's storms seems out of a bygoneera, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts werearound to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were toldthe tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but theywere just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populatedareas to avoid a horrifying body count.
"These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that Ithink anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen," saidmeteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service's StormPrediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
"If you experienced a direct hit from one of these, you'd haveto be in a reinforced room, storm shelter or underground" tosurvive, Carbin said.
The storms seemed to hug the interstate highways as theybarreled along like runaway trucks, obliterating neighborhoods oreven entire towns from Tuscaloosa to Virginia. One family rode outthe disaster in the basement of a funeral home, another by huddlingin a tanning bed.
In Concord, a small town outside Birmingham that was ravaged bya tornado, Randy Guyton's family got a phone call from a friendwarning them to take cover. They rushed to the basement garage,piled into their car and listened to the roar as the twisterdevoured the house in seconds. Afterward, they saw daylight throughthe shards of their home and scrambled out.
"The whole house caved in on top of that car," he said.
"Other than my boy screaming to the Lord to save us, being in thatcar is what saved us."
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said his state had confirmed 204deaths. There were 33 deaths in Mississippi, 33 in Tennessee, 15 inGeorgia, five in Virginia and one in Kentucky. Hundreds if notthousands of people were injured - 600 in Tuscaloosa alone.
Some of the worst damage was in Tuscaloosa, a city of more than83,000 that is home to the University of Alabama. The stormsdestroyed the city's emergency management center, so the school'sBryant-Denny Stadium was turned into a makeshift one. Schoolofficials said two students were killed, though they did not sayhow they died. Finals were canceled and commencement was postponed.
A tower-mounted news camera there captured images of anastonishingly thick, powerful tornado flinging debris as it leveledneighborhoods.
That twister and others Wednesday were several times more severethan a typical tornado, which is hundreds of yards wide, has windsaround 100 mph (160 kph) and stays on the ground for a few miles,said research meteorologist Harold Brooks at the Storm PredictionCenter.