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Tragic storms blast southern states

Hundreds homeless as death toll rises, responders scramble to provide help

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.(UPI) | April 28, 2011

More than 300,000 Alabama customers were without power Thursday after devastating storms spawning a deadly tornado killed at least 58 people, officials said.

The evening twister in Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- one of several that struck the state -- flattened homes and buildings and brought further damage and death to a region already battered by storms.

All told, at least 100 people were killed Wednesday in storms across the South, officials said.

The number of dead and injured in from the Tuscaloosa tornado, whose wind speeds topped 135 mph, was not clear early Thursday, as many people remained trapped under rubble, officials said.

Firefighters, police officers and residents worked into the night trying to free a University of Alabama student trapped under several feet of debris, The Tuscaloosa News reported. The woman yelled she couldn't feel her legs.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama's fifth-largest city, is home of the University of Alabama.

The tornado raced out of town and later passed north of downtown Birmingham, which had been battered by another storm earlier in the day, officials said.

"We have line crews on the way from as far away as Illinois to assist in the recovery," Alabama Power Co. spokesman Michael Sznajderman told The New York Times.

If dangerous storms forecast for later this week materialize as predicted, "the number of outages could be as high as what we saw with Hurricane Ivan or Hurricane Katrina," he said.

President Barack Obama authorized emergency federal assistance for Alabama late Wednesday.

The tornado was the latest in a series of southern U.S. storms this week that brought heavy rains and flooding from Texas to Georgia, officials said.

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