Storms, Tornadoes Leave Dozens Dead in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee

Death toll rises across four states, including at least 53 reported in Alabama.

April 27, 2011, 12:16 AM

April 27, 2011— -- Thunderstorms, severe winds and tornadoes slammed the South Wednesday, killing dozens of people in four states.

The numbers of known dead in Alabama rose rapidly this evening. At least 58 were killed in the state Wednesday, The Associated Press reported after 11 p.m. ET.

The toll came soon after ABC News Birmingham, Ala., affiliate WBMA, also known as "33/40," reported at least 53 people dead, which was not long after Alabama emergency officials told ABC News at least 40 had died.

"There are more out there to be confirmed because search and rescue is underway in a number the counties," Alabama Emergency Management Agency information manager Yasamie August said. "However, there are still storm systems moving through the county, as we speak."

In addition, at least 11 were dead in Mississippi, ABC News confirmed.

The Associated Press reported two deaths in Georgia and one in Tennessee Wednesday, plus one person killed by the same storm Tuesday in Arkansas.

Mayor Walter Maddox reported 15 dead Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a city of approximately 180,000 flattened by an estimated mile-wide tornado.

"I'm in my car at corner on McFarland. Milo's Hamburgers isn't there anymore," Tuscaloosa resident Phil Owen told WBMA. "Hobby Lobby [is the] only thing still standing at Woods Square Shopping Center. Big Lots, Full Moon Barbecue -- piles of garbage where those places were."

Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama.

"We have way over 100 injuries throughout the city of Tuscaloosa," Mayor Maddox said. "We have hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and hundreds more damaged."

President Obama declared a state of emergency for the search and rescue response in Alabama, and Gov. Robert Bentley told WBMA he expected him to declare another one to help pay for the cleanup.

"It's very difficult to see this," Bentley told WBMA of the damage.

In confirming the state of emergency, President Obama said federal officials had their eye on the storms and would help as needed.

"Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives because of the tornadoes that have swept through Alabama and the southeastern United States," he said in a written statement. "Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster."

As the known death toll rose this evening, forecasters warned people to brace for even worse weather.

"Today is the day you want to be careful," Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma told The Associated Press.

The weather system was expected to move into Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky by the night and into the Carolinas by Thursday morning.

For the areas already hit, the latest deadly storm was an all-day affair on top of about a dozen deaths from rough weather in the region over previous days.

"The storm came in early this morning even before daybreak and a number of destruction and damage was done during that time," said August, the Alabama emergency official, Wednesday evening. "And then we knew it would likely come back through. We didn't know the extent of the damage.

"We are opening shelters throughout the state to make sure folks who have nowhere to go tonight will have somewhere to go out of the weather," August said.

Deadly Tornados

Families in Moody, Ala., were just getting ready for work early Wednesday when the storm struck. Witnesses said there were no sirens and no warnings.

Wendy Pesnell lost her home when a tornado hit after 6 a.m. Wednesday.

"It's just kind of like, it makes you stop and think, you know, 'Wow.' You know, we're here one minute and be gone the next," she told ABC News.

George Bearden said the tornado touched down so fast that he and his family had no time to run for cover.

"Pieces of our house are scattered across two countries," Bearden told ABC News. "But we survived it."

At the airport in Birmingham, a hangar was damaged by high winds.

In Mississippi, Louisiana police officer Lt. Wade Sharp was killed during a camping trip in a state park when a tree limb fell on his tent. Three other men who have not been identified were also killed because of fallen trees.

In Arkansas, the Department of Emergency Management said today that one person had died in a storm in Sharp County Tuesday. And in Tennessee, a woman was killed in her Chattanooga trailer.

A 3-year-old Mississippi girl died Tuesday after a tree fell on her house, authorities said, and 10 have been reported dead in Arkansas because of flooding and a tornado.

Louisiana authorities were investigating whether two deaths in that state are storm-related.

There have been more than 600 reports of tornadoes nationwide for the month of April.

The latest storm pattern has brought in more than 45 reports of tornadoes in five states: Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Kentucky.

Some areas of Texas were in the path of a tornado for the second day in the row. Golf ball-sized hail hit cars along Interstate 45 and damaged homes.

Forecasters predicted more flooding for today with 3 to 7 inches of rain expected from Arkansas to Ohio, while areas such as Memphis, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky., could see heavy rain at times.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe toured the heavy tornado damage in Vilonia, where four died Monday.

"I'm amazed that we haven't had any more loss of life based upon the amount of damage that we're looking at," Beebe said.

Floodwaters Rise

The Mississippi, Ohio and Black Rivers were overflowing Wednesday morning after a deluge of as much as 15 inches of rain in five days.

In Arkansas, among the dead were at least six people who drowned after their cars were swept away in high water.

Near the swollen Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, emergency officials considered blowing a 2-mile-wide hole in a levee to ease the onslaught of water, but Missouri's attorney general has sued to stop it from happening, saying it would demolish crops and 100 homes.

Homes were still underwater this morning in Missouri after the Black River overflowed its levee in more than 30 different places Tuesday.

The levee breach to the south brought relief to residents in Poplar Bluff because all the flood water is pouring into rural farmland, where there are fewer people.

But it made rescues that much more difficult for authorities.

In downtown Louisville, Ky., roads disappeared, street lamps were submerged and more rain was coming.

A severe storm that swept through Allegan County, Mich., damaged a barn that houses thousands of turkeys.

Part of the barn landed half a mile away at a landscape company where Sue Dykstra works.

"I saw the barn door coming just like breaking off, coming right towards me, so I dodged into the office, dove in there," she said. "And I saw everybody else like huddling under stuff. And said, 'OK, this is a big deal.' Looked outside and that's when everything was going in circles."

Flooding also caused major problems in southern Indiana Tuesday, where, officials say, flooding could take weeks to ease.

In Pike County, sandbags are going up around a power plant and emergency management personnel are asking residents to conserve water, as the Patoka River rises.

"It floods every year. However, this is a little more than what we're used to," Pike County Sheriff Jeremy Britton said. "The levels are probably going tor each record levels."

ABC News' Steve Osunsami and Ryan Creed, ABC News Radio and the Associated Press contributed to this report.