Tornado Record Set in the South Amid Continued Deadly Storms

May 3, 2011, 08:33 by R.E. Christian

Thunderstorms with tornadoes could hit parts of battered Alabama and Mississippi Monday but they'll be less fierce than recent deadly storms, forecasters said.

Hail was also likely in some areas, forecasters said before dawn Monday as people prepared to dig out again from last week's storms that killed at least 349 people across eight states -- the highest U.S. death toll from tornadoes since April 5-6, 1936, when 454 people were killed, mostly around Tupelo, Miss., and Gainesville, Ga., but also in Columbia, Tenn., Anderson, S.C., and Acworth, Ga.

The deadliest U.S. tornado struck March 18, 1925, killing 695 people in southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana. Its 219-mile track was also the longest ever recorded in the world.

The National Weather service Sunday put tornado watches out for parts of northeastern Texas, southern Arkansas, northern Louisiana and western Tennessee, but said later no tornadoes were reported.

Some 200,000 customers in several Southern states faced a fourth and fifth day without power, and dozens of shelters remained open. Schools in hit areas remained closed.

In Alabama -- the hardest-hit state from Thursday tornadoes, which began Wednesday farther west --10,000 workers from Alabama Power Co. and utility companies from 18 other states restored electrical service to 90 percent of those originally hit, leaving some 40,000 homes and businesses without power Monday morning, The Tuscaloosa News reported.

Alabama's death toll stood at 250 Monday morning, with 2,219 people injured or hospitalized, state officials said.

The number still missing statewide was unclear, officials said, but in devastated Tuscaloosa the number was 373, down from 570 Saturday, Mayor Walter Maddox said.

The number of Tuscaloosa's dead reached 40 and injured topped 1,000, The Tuscaloosa News said.

The tornado created an 80-mile-long, 1.5-mile-wide path of destruction through Tuscaloosa northeast to Birmingham in central Alabama, with winds of at least 166 mph to 200 mph, or an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, the second-highest rating for tornado damage, the National Weather Service said.

"I don't think words can fairly express the level of devastation here," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters Sunday after touring Birmingham's working-class Pratt City neighborhood, one of the city's hardest hit.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said finding housing for the thousands of newly homeless throughout the Southeast would "be the single most critical part of the recovery," The Wall Street Journal reported.

The aim is to relocate residents as close to their homes as possible, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said. This tactic is different from FEMA's response after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, when thousands of New Orleans residents were dispersed far from Louisiana.

Last week's storms are the worst U.S. natural disaster since Katrina.

Insured property losses from the tornadoes are expected to be $2 billion to $5 billion, said EQECAT Inc., a catastrophe risk-model forecaster in Oakland, Calif.

Source: UPI