As day broke Thursday, people in hard-hit Alabama surveyed flattened, debris-strewn neighborhoods and told of pulling bodies from rubble after the storms passed Wednesday afternoon and evening.
“It happened so fast it was unbelievable,” said Jerry Stewart, a 63-year-old retired firefighter who was picking through the remains of his son’s wrecked home in Pleasant Grove, a suburb of Birmingham. “They said the storm was in Tuscaloosa and it would be here in 15 minutes. And before I knew it, it was here.”
He and his wife, along with their daughter and two grandchildren, survived by hiding under their front porch. Friends down the street who did the same weren’t so lucky — Stewart said he pulled out the bodies of two neighbors whose home was ripped off its foundation.
Alabama’s state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 162 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 32 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.
Some of the worst damage was in Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 that is home to the University of Alabama. Because the city’s emergency management building was destroyed, authorities are using Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama as a command post.
University officials said there didn’t appear to be significant damage on campus, and dozens of students and locals were staying at a 125-bed shelter in the campus recreation center.