As crews continue to look for survivors all across the South, the death toll from one of the worst tornado outbreaks in history has now risen to 300 and is likely to climb higher. Thousands are in Red Cross shelters and a million are without power. Those that survived are faced with a bleak, almost post-apocalyptic landscape in some of the hardest-hit areas, like Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where there were 36 casualties alone:
"It looks like an atomic bomb went off in a straight line," said Dr. Brian Wilhite, an internist at Druid City Hospital in Tuscaloosa who tended to the wounded.
The facility was overrun with hundreds of people who suffered injuries, including head injuries or lacerations, he said.
"It looked more like a Vietnam War site than a hospital," Wilhite said. "I know one physician who watched two people die right in front of him. There was nothing he could do."
Experts spoke of the freak weather that caused all of this destruction in superlative terms:
"These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen," said meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
"If you experienced a direct hit from one of these, you'd have to be in a reinforced room, storm shelter or underground" to survive, Carbin said.
President Obama will visit the state today and has promised the support of the federal government. The cleanup effort won't be easy. Insurance experts believe the damage costs "would run into the billions of dollars." And the psychological damage is immeasurable.
In Phil Campbell, a small town of 1,000 in northwest Alabama where 26 people died, the grocery store, gas stations and medical clinic were destroyed by a tornado that Mayor Jerry Mays estimated was a half-mile wide and traveled some 20 miles.
"We've lost everything. Let's just say it like it is," Mays said. "I'm afraid we might have some suicides because of this."