(Photo: AP Images / Jeff Gentner)
More than 100 reported tornadoes have devastated the South, killing as many as 248 people across six states – the worst outbreak since 1974.
The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. said it received 137 tornado reports into Wednesday night, including 66 in Alabama and 38 in Mississippi.
The majority of the fatalities occurred in hard-hit Alabama, with authorities recording 162 deaths from Wednesday night’s storm.
“I don’t know how anyone survived,” stated Mayor Walter Maddox to CNN. “When you look at the path of destruction that’s likely 5 to 7 miles long in an area half a mile to a mile wide … it’s an amazing scene. There’s parts of the city I don’t recognize, and that’s someone that’s lived here his entire life.”
As daylight broke Thursday, people surveyed the mass destruction that left hundreds of homes and businesses flattened, thousands of trees knocked down and household items scattered throughout the streets.
According to a statement released by Ala. Governor Robert Bentley, at least one million people in Alabama are without power. Two thousand National Guard troops were activated to help search for people who are missing in the devastated areas.
Additionally, The Associated Press counted 32 deaths in Mississippi, 32 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.
Dozens of roads from Texas to New York were affected by the storm as well, flooded or washed out.
States of emergency were declared in several states including Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and most recently, Virginia.
President Barack Obama approved late Wednesday Gov. Bentley’s request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue support, reported CNN.
“I just spoke to Governor Bentley and told him that I have ordered the Federal Government to move quickly in our response,” Obama said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to all those have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster.”
Obama will visit Alabama on Friday on his way to Cape Canaveral, Fla., to view the damage and meet with Gov. Bentley as well as other local officials.
In a statement released by The White House, FEMA reported that Director Craig Fugate will also be meeting with the Alabama governor to discuss the state’s recovery efforts.
“This could be one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the nation’s history by the time it’s over,” said meteorologist Sean Morris to CNN.
The recent tornadoes are contributing to what may become a record-breaking month for twisters, where just two weeks ago Mississippi and southern parts of Alabama were hit.
Tornado watches are reportedly still being issued by the National Weather Service, along the East Coast from Georgia to the Boston area, with severe storms and winds up to 100 miles per hour.
“We expect an eruption of tornadic activity and thunderstorms along a boundary moving along the Eastern Seaboard,” Mike Mach, a National Weather Service meteorologist told The New York Times.
For now, with much of the South ravaged by the recent tornadoes, many Christian relief organizations are rallying volunteers and preparing to assist the much-needed areas.
The top priority for Southern Baptist's Disaster Relief volunteers right now is to assist in search and rescue efforts, especially in the state of Alabama, Mike Ebert told The Christian Post.
"Our volunteers usually don't do that but because emergency personnel are spread so thin right now since this is such a huge disaster, they've asked for our help on that," Ebert stated.
Southern Baptist volunteers are also planning to set up several feeding units, where 10,000 meals can be served at a time from just one unit. They hope to quickly send out chainsaw crews as well to all the areas which need help in removing the debris from the roads and from individual homes.
Laundry, shower, communication, childcare and several other disaster relief units will also be made available.
The Salvation Army announced that they too would be assisting with the disaster relief efforts in the South, mobilizing 10 feeding units and a communications unit in their Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.
Another 22 mobile feeding units including catering trucks, mobile kitchens, and a 20,000 meal per day full service field kitchen have also been placed on standby.
Units are providing food, beverage, and spiritual support to storm victims in Tuscaloosa, Guntersville, and Lauderdale County, Ala., as well as Montpelier and Oxford, Miss.
Mobile feeding units from the Kentucky-Tennessee Division are also serving victims in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tenn., and additional Salvation Army EDS feeding units are currently in route to other affected areas throughout the South.
Furthermore, Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization headed by evangelist Franklin Graham, is also deploying two Disaster Relief Units into Alabama, establishing bases in the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham areas.
The organization, which partners with local churches in the affected areas, is as of yet awaiting confirmation from potential church sites to work with, according to their communications liaison, Melissa Strickland.
Tractor trailers that are fully stocked with tools, equipment and other necessary things will be available for volunteers to begin providing assistance to those in need.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, deployed in coordination with Samaritan’s Purse also has crisis-trained chaplains on the ground in Birmingham assessing the damage.
Chaplains there will address the emotional and spiritual needs of tornado survivors.
“The swath of devastation that has ripped through the South and brought so much death and destruction is stunning,” said Preston Parrish, executive vice president of ministry at BGEA, in a statement.
“The overwhelming sense of loss – for those who lost their homes, and especially for those who lost loved ones – will be nearly unbearable for many. We want those suffering to know that Christ cares for them, that we are praying for them, and we will be standing beside them.”