The number of dead reported from violent storms that ravaged five Southern states last night has jumped to 193, with 128 reported dead in Alabama alone. Mississippi is reporting 32 deaths, Georgia is reporting eleven, Tennessee is reporting fourteen, and Virginia claims eight fatalities. The number is expected to rise in the coming hours and days. "This could be one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the nation's history by the time it's over," said CNN meteorologist Sean Morris. A tornado said to be a mile wide reduced parts of Tuscaloosa, a college town that's home to the University of Alabama, to rubble. The tornado swept through the city's downtown area, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings. "It literally obliterated blocks and blocks of the city," said Tuscaloosa mayor Walter Maddox. He described the infrastructure as "decimated."
Tornadoes also touched down in Birmingham, injuring hundreds and leaving others missing. Red Cross spokesman Chris Osborne said the number of ambulances on the street in Birmingham "is like taxicabs in New York." The damage in Alabama was made worse by earlier storms that hit the region. The ground was so soaked that rather than just snapping trees and branches, entire trees were uprooted and tossed across power lines.
Flash foods from the storm have caused waters to rise at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, prompting officials in the Midwest to plan to blow up a levee. It would flood farms but save towns should water levels increase. In a statement last night, President Obama said he had received Alabama governor Robert Bentley's request for emergency federal assistance, adding:
"While we may not know the extent of the damage for days, we will continue to monitor these severe storms across the country and stand ready to continue to help the people of Alabama and all citizens affected by these storms."
Footage of a tornado ravaging Tuscaloosa last night, taken by what sounds like someone who ran as fast as they could to avoid it:
Storm chasers captured footage of another tornado gathering through Philadelphia, Mississippi:
Raw video shows a massive tornado in Tuscaloosa moving up a highway as trucks and cars race away: