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Tornado-hit Americans count blessings, fear looting

by Staff Writers
Tuscaloosa, Alabama (AFP) April 29, 2011
Survivors of one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in US history were counting their blessings Friday as they picked through ruined homes, frightened of what night might bring.

More than a million people were still believed to be without power in Alabama and residents were desperately trying to secure their properties and salvage some possessions before darkness fell, amid fears of looting.

The tornadoes killed some 321 people across six states, but it was Alabama which bore the brunt of the storms, as 228 perished when the twisters barreled across late Wednesday, ripping apart whole communities.

"I've never seen devastation like this. It is heartbreaking," US President Barack Obama said after touring the stricken areas.

"I never imagined a tornado could lead to such destruction in a city," said Rose Livingston, as she asked her children to load boxes of chips, cans of soda, bottles of wine and freezers into a truck from her damaged deli.

"I cannot leave the place like that. I'm gonna sleep here until we get everything out."

Owen Simmons said he felt lucky just to be alive in front of his damaged house. "The black cross with a zero below means that the rescue team has already checked my home and they found no victims. That's what really matters," he said.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has promised to boost security in the small town of Tuscaloosa and has called on the US government to reinforce the National Guard with another 500 men, to join 300 already deployed.

But Thomas Higgs was erecting wood panels across the front of his house, after the side was torn off in just seconds by the force of the deadliest tornadoes to hit the United States since 1932.

"I have to close the house in some way. I got a lot of nice and valuable stuff inside and I want to preserve it, everybody knows in these cases what happens in the night if you don't take care of your home," he told AFP.

Fresh in people's memories here are the shocking scenes in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans when abandoned and flooded homes and property were ransacked by hordes of desperate looters.

In a bid to maintain order, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox has ordered a curfew, lasting from dusk until 08:00 am, for the second night.

Mexican citizen Jose Romano, who has lived in the town for five years with his wife Haydee, surveyed the rubble of his neighbors' homes, scarcely believing that by some miracle his house had survived.

"We got into the bath with our 11-month-old baby," he told AFP, re-living the terrifying moments the winds roared through his neighborhood. "We were very afraid that something would happen, but we survived."

At a gas station, owner Robert Mitton stood in the debris, with the windows blown out and all the merchandise scattered on the floor.

"I don't want to think now how much I lost," he said. "I hope we can get some help from the government."

The storms have wreaked the most damage in some of the nation's poorest districts already hit hard by the economic downturn.

Two Mexican brothers, Hernando and Miguel Jimenez, were helping to deliver food and water to church members stricken by the tornadoes.

"It's terrible what has happened. Perhaps the only good thing is that we will need to rebuild the town and that could give work to the unemployed," said Hernando.

In Ringgold, Georgia, many businesses were also destroyed by the tornadoes.

"It's going to be a task getting things back," Alvin Mashburn, 63, owner of Remco Business Center, admitted ruefully.

"That Hardee's restaurant down there by the interstate had a line of cars seven days a week with people buying breakfast... Not any more."

One of his store signs was blown 112 miles (180 kilometers) into the neighboring state of Tennessee, landing in the front yard of Knoxville resident, Linda Summitt.

Summitt found the sign after riding out the storm with her family huddled under the staircase.

The National Weather Service said the tornado that hit Ringgold was an EF4 Tornado, almost the highest rating for a tornado on the NWS scale, packing winds of 175 miles (281 kilometers) per hour.

It touched down at 8:15 pm (0015 GMT) just outside Ringgold, and stayed on the ground for 13 miles (20 kilometers), destroying about 100 homes in its path.

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Sprawling devastation as US storm toll tops 310
Tuscaloosa, Alabama (AFP) April 29, 2011
Shocked Americans on Friday sifted through the rubble from the worst US tornadoes in decades, which carved a trail of destruction across the south claiming at least 313 lives. Communities like Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's home town of Tuscaloosa were virtually wiped off the map, and officials warned the body count would rise as rescuers uncovered more dead in the debris. Disbelief w ... read more

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