Dozens dead as storms batter southern US

Storms and tornadoes leave trail of devastation across southern states and more than 200,000 without electricity.

    Three days of severe storms and tornadoes in the southern US have killed at least 45 people, downing power lines and wrecking hundreds of buildings along its path.

    North Carolina accounted for the bulk of casualties and property losses, with 28 people killed and more than 80 others injured, officials said on Sunday.

    Significant damage was reported in at least 15 counties and power was out to more than 200,000 people.

    Seven people died as a result of the storms in Alabama, seven died in Arkansas and one died in Mississippi, and two people were killed in Oklahoma when a tornado flattened buildings.

    It appeared to be the deadliest US storm since February 2008, when 57 people died from tornadoes in the south and Ohio Valley, said AccuWeather.com meteorologist Andy Mussoline, who said the 39 death toll may change.

    "I would expect that total to rise, unfortunately," Mussoline said.

    The storms began in Oklahoma on Thursday and then moved through the South and hit the East Coast by Saturday. There were 241 tornadoes reported, with 50 confirmed.

    Nuclear safety concern

    Dominion Virginia Power said the two nuclear reactors at its Surry Power Station in southeastern Virginia shut down automatically on Saturday when an apparent tornado touched down and cut off an electrical feed to the station.

    Backup generators operated normally and both units "are in safe and stable condition," the utility said in a statement.

    "No release of radioactive material has occurred beyond those minor releases associated with normal station operations. These minor releases are below federally approved operating limits, and pose no threat to station workers or the public," the Dominion Resources Inc. company said.

    North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency on Saturday night and the National Weather Service confirmed at least eight tornadoes in the state.

    Statewide, high winds destroyed 60 houses and damaged 400 others, said Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.

    "Many communities have downed trees, downed power lines and a significant amount of debris on the roadways," Doug Hoell, the head of emergency services, said late on Saturday.

    Progress Energy, the main utility in eastern North Carolina, said 220,000 customers were without electricity at
    the peak of the storm, with 78,000 homes and utilities still without power on Sunday morning.

    The storm snapped hundreds of power poles and 30 transmission structures were damaged, company spokesman Mike Hughes said. In some areas, twisters swept up poles and wires and dropped them elsewhere.

    "There are some parts where a tornado took the utility structure away and we cannot find it," Hughes said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and Agencies


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