February 23, 2019

Twister storm brings death to the South

Destruction in Pratt City, Birmingham. It looks like it has been bombed.

Dozens of tornadoes have ripped through six US Southern states, killing at least 248 people and destroying hundreds of buildings, in the worst twister outbreak in decades.

Alabama’s State Emergency Management agency said it had confirmed 162 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 32 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.

President Barack Obama said he would travel to Alabama on Friday to view storm damage and meet with the governor and affected families.

“Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster,” Obama said in a statement.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said it received 137 tornado reports into Wednesday night.

Some of the worst damage was in Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 that is home to the University of Alabama. Whole neighbourhoods there were leveled by a massive tornado caught on video by a tower-mounted news camera that ripped through late Wednesday afternoon.

Back from an aerial tour Thursday morning, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox said the tornado tore a streak as many as 6 kilometres long and one kilometre wide of “utter destruction.” There are at least 36 people dead in the city’s police jurisdiction, and searches continue for the missing.

“We have neighborhoods that have been basically removed from the map,” he said.

Because the city’s emergency management building was destroyed, authorities are using Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama as a command post.

The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out. The governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.

Dave Imy, a meteorologist with the prediction service, said the deaths were the most since a tornado outbreak killed 315 people in 1974.

In Alabama, where as many as a million people were without power, Gov. Robert Bentley said 2,000 national guard troops had been activated and were helping to search devastated areas for people still missing. He said the National Weather Service and forecasters did a good job of alerting people, but there is only so much that can be done to deal with powerful tornadoes a mile wide.

The storms came on behind another system that killed 10 people in Arkansas and one in Mississippi earlier this week. Less than two weeks earlier, a smaller batch of twisters raced through Alabama, touching off warning sirens, damaging businesses and downing power lines in Tuscaloosa, but there were no deaths there then.

This is definitely in the just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse category. We sympathise with all those affected by the storms and hope this is the end of the wild weather for now, to allow time to pick up the pieces and grieve for loved ones lost and lives wrecked.

In New Zealand Maori we would say “Kia Kaha” which in english means “be Strong”.