As of Saturday morning, emergency agencies are now saying the Alabama death toll has jumped to 254, Mississippi is up to 33 dead, 15 in Georgia, about 34 dead in Tennessee, eight dead in Virginia and one in Arkansas. In total, more than 342 people have been confirmed dead.
The storm system, which has ravaged the South to such an extent that President Obama, who visited Alabama Friday, was moved to state that he had never seen such devastation before, is also now the second-deadliest single-day storm system on record in the U.S. Only a storm system in 1925, which swept through seven states, cost a greater number of human lives, according to the National Weather Service. Seven hundred and forty seven people were killed on March 18, 1925.
Weather officials say that it was the size and path of the tornadoes that made the storm system so deadly. At least 11 tornadoes rated an EF-3 or higher ranking, and experts say the tornadoes were almost a mile wide, traveling dozens of miles before dying down.
Obama signed a disaster declaration Thursday night to free up federal assistance for those who need it.
Speaking Thursday, Obama said that damage in the tornado-stricken South was "nothing more than catastrophic." Obama called the loss of life "heartbreaking."
Violent tornadoes have ripped through Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. One long lived supercell storm is responsible for a tornado that struck Meridian, MS then Tuscaloosa, AL and Birmingham, AL. This tornado was violent and long lived and has created immense damage in these locations. Aside from these major cities, many other smaller communities have been devastated by these storms.
One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, AL where a tornado barreled through the city, killing at least 45 people, more than any other county in the South. The storm left debris in the streets and businesses unrecognizable. Students at the University of Alabama used flashlights to check out the damage.
Many surviving residents have credited divine intervention for saving their lives--one resident of Tuscaloosa, who helped pull other survivors out of rubble, told CNN that his home remained standing while everything else around him "was laid down."
"It had to be my God," Terry Nicholson told CNN.
Chief Meteorologist Brian Bledsoe has been looking over the damage video and photos. He says it looks like the damage in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa may have been from an EF4 or EF5 tornado. This means that the tornado may have produced winds close to 200 mph. He says it's still too early to tell, as the National Weather Service will conduct the damage survey and assign the official rating.