Severe weather in southern and southeastern regions of the United States spawned dozens of tornadoes between April 14and 16, causing widespread property damage and killing at least 45 people. The storms affected the 14 states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The violent weather began in Oklahoma on April 14 before cutting across the southern states the following day and hitting North Carolina and Virginia on April 16. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the storms spawned more than 240 tornadoes across the region and brought strong winds, heavy rain and grapefruit-sized hail to several areas. Reports said the tornado tally over the three-day period is likely to rank among the highest in United States history. Meteorologists said there had been three main contributory factors that combined to cause the severe weather: a powerful jet stream, abundant moisture and a strong cold front moving across southern regions.
Reports said the six states of North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi were worst hit hard by the storms
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North Carolina was badly hit by the severe weather, with at least 21 fatalities reported after more than 60 tornadoes swept across the state on April 16. Emergency officials said fatalities occurred in the counties of Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake. Witnesses said falling trees snapped power lines and damaged several homes and cars, killing occupants and causing widespread damage. Thousands of acres of agricultural land were also devastated. An estimated 220,000 people lost power at the height of the storms in North Carolina. Utility companies have now restored power to most customers but warned that some households will be without electricity until April 19.
Governor Beverley Perdue declared a state of emergency after officials reported 130 homes destroyed and another 700 significantly damaged. Officials expect those totals to climb as damage assessments continue. Officials said the worst of the damage was reported in Bladen County and Bertie County. Officials in Bladen County have reported 82 homes damaged and another 25 destroyed so far. The severe weather also killed at least 14 people in Bertie County and swept some homes from their foundations after a tornado estimated to be almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide blew through the county for at least 6 miles (10 kilometers). The state’s capital city of Raleigh also sustained some damage, particularly in northern areas, according to officials. Governor Beverly Perdue said the damage caused by the storms was the most significant to hit North Carolina since 1984, when 23 people died.
At least seven people were killed by the severe weather in Virginia. Tornadoes and flash flooding caused damage and disruption in several areas of the state. The NWS has confirmed two tornadoes with wind speeds of between 86 and 110 mph (kilometers) hit Augusta County and Dinwiddie County. Gloucester County was also badly hit after a tornado cut a 12-mile (18-kilometer) swath across the county, uprooting trees and destroying homes. Officials said the tornado ripped the roof off Page Middle School and overturned school buses and cars. In Surry County, reports said a power plant that is owned by Dominion Virginia Power was damaged when a tornado hit the switchyard supporting the plant, cutting off the electrical connection from the power grid to the station. Plant officials said both of the station’s nuclear reactors shut down automatically. Tens of thousands of households lost power across the state. Early damage assessments indicate that more than 330 homes and businesses were damaged in Virginia. Governor Bob McDonnell has declared a state of emergency, authorizing state agencies to assist local officials in response and recovery efforts.
Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency for all counties in Alabama after being battered by the severe weather on April 15. Seven people were killed in the state. Reports said a tornado damaged a motel in Tuscaloosa and struck an oil change business in the area. A statement from Governor Bentley’s office said there have been confirmed reports of tornado touchdowns in the counties of Monroe, Greene, Marengo, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Choctaw.
At least three tornadoes touched down in the Arkansas counties of Pulaski, Crawford and Franklin in the early hours of April 15, killing seven people. Damage was reported in Little Rock after a tornado with winds of between 86 and 110 mph (kilometers) moved through the state’s capital. Damage was reported elsewhere in Arkansas and more than 40,000 people lost power during the peak of the storms.
Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 26 counties in Oklahoma after 17 tornadoes swept across the state. The small town of Tuskha in southeastern Oklahoma was almost flattened by a tornado with winds ranging from 136 mph to 165 mph (kilometers), damaging nearly all the town’s homes and businesses. Two people were killed in Tuskha and at least 25 more were injured.
One person was killed when at least three tornadoes hit Mississippi on April 15, prompting Governor Haley Barbour to declare a state of emergency for 14 counties. Reports said the severe weather damaged or destroyed dozens of properties in Mississippi, with the counties of Greene and Hinds worst affected. Officials said numerous homes and businesses were damaged in Greene County, while widespread damage and several injuries were reported in Hinds (especially in hard-hit Clinton). Injuries, downed trees, flooding and property damage were reported in 16 other counties, according to early assessments.
Sources: BBC News, Agence France Presse, Associated Press, Reuters News, CNN News
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