Death toll hits 310 in US tornadoes disaster
Published 30/04/2011 | 05:00
US President Barack Obama flew to the epicentre of one of the country's worst- ever tornado disasters yesterday as the death toll hit 310.
The second-biggest American nuclear power plant, the Browns Ferry facility in Alabama, could be down for weeks after its power was knocked out and the plant automatically shut, avoiding a nuclear disaster, safety officials confirmed last night.
Mr Obama and his family visited the wrecked university city of Tuscaloosa in Alabama, the hardest-hit of seven states that were devastated this week by storms that flattened whole neighbourhoods.
It was the worst US natural catastrophe since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In Alabama alone, 210 people lost their lives.
Approaching the airport in Tuscaloosa, Air Force One flew over the tornado strike zone, giving Mr Obama and his family a clear view of a wide brown scar of devastation several kilometres long and hundreds of meters wide.
Mr Obama is eager to show that federal relief is on its way and that he is not taking the disaster lightly. His predecessor, George W Bush, was fiercely criticised for what was viewed as a slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr Obama "wants to put a spotlight for the rest of America on the suffering that a storm like this implies for so many families".
Recovery could cost billions of dollars and even with federal disaster aid, it could complicate efforts by affected states to bounce back from recession.
It will place an added burden on municipalities grappling with fragile finances.
Tornadoes are a regular feature of life in the US south and midwest, but they are rarely so devastating. Deaths also were reported in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia.
The tornadoes ravaged Alabama's poultry industry -- the state is the third-largest US chicken producer -- and battered at least one coal mine and other manufacturers and industries.
Clothing producer VF Corp said one of its jeanswear distribution centres was destroyed and an employee killed.
At first light yesterday, state authorities deployed teams in Tuscaloosa to help survivors still picking up the pieces after the tornadoes on Wednesday devastated homes and businesses.
The twisters reduced houses to rubble, flipped cars and knocked out power and other utilities.
"We are bringing in the cadaver dogs today," said Heather McCollum, assistant to the mayor of Tuscaloosa, who put the death toll in the city at 42 but said it could rise. She said 900 people were injured.
Hundreds were left homeless by the tornadoes, while up to one million homes in Alabama were left without power.