Storms kill scores in Alabama and other south US states
Tornadoes and storms in the south-eastern United States have killed at least 193 people, officials say.
In Alabama, the worst-hit state, 128 have died in recent days - including 15 killed by a tornado that devastated the city of Tuscaloosa.
Deaths are also reported in Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.
Tornadoes and storms that have been battering the southern US killed at least 128 people on Wednesday in Alabama alone, state officials say.
The US National Weather Service has preliminary reports of nearly 300 tornadoes since the storm began on Friday, including more than 130 on Wednesday alone.
One meteorologist described the tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa as possibly the "worst in Alabama's history".
The city - home to more than 83,000 residents, and to the University of Alabama - was hit by the huge tornado in the early evening on Wednesday.
"Everybody says it [a tornado] sounds like a train and I started to hear the train," Tuscaloosa resident Anthony Foote told Reuters news agency.
"I ran and jumped into the tub and the house started shaking. Then glass started shattering."
By nightfall, the city was dark, with roads impassable, businesses unrecognisable, sirens wailing off and on, and debris littering the streets and pavements, the Associated Press reports.
The city's hospital said its emergency room had admitted about 100 people, but treated four times that number.
Mayor Walter Maddox told reporters the city faced "massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time", and said he expected the death toll to rise.Falling trees
A state of emergency has been declared in Alabama.
Northern and central parts of the state bore the brunt of the latest storms. Eleven people died in Jefferson County, home to Birmingham, Alabama's largest city.
President Barack Obama said he had spoken to state Governor Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency assistance, including search and rescue teams.
Mr Obama said on Wednesday night: "We will continue to monitor these severe storms across the country and stand ready to continue to help the people of Alabama and all citizens affected by these storms."
States of emergency were also declared in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma, following the latest storms and tornadoes.
Mississippi reported 32 deaths on Tuesday and Wednesday - including that of a police officer who shielded his nine-year-old daughter from a falling tree while on a camping holiday. The girl escaped unhurt.
At least 11 people have been killed in Georgia, 14 in Tennessee and eight in Virginia.
The current storm system is forecast to hit North and South Carolina before making its way further north-east.
Storms have hit states across the southern US for weeks, and another major storm system is forecast to bring heavy rain in the coming days.
Dozens of tornadoes kill 194 in 5 Southern states
PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. – Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out entire towns across a wide swath of the South, killing at least 194 people, and officials said Thursday they expect the death toll to rise.
Alabama's state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 128 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 15 in Tennessee, 11 in Georgia and eight in Virginia.
The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.
"We were in the bathroom holding on to each other and holding on to dear life," said Samantha Nail, who lives in a blue-collar subdivision in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove where the storm slammed heavy pickup trucks into ditches and obliterated tidy brick houses, leaving behind a mess of mattresses, electronics and children's toys scattered across a grassy plain where dozens used to live. "If it wasn't for our concrete walls, our home would be gone like the rest of them."
One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama. The city's police and other emergency services were devastated, the mayor said, and at least 15 people were killed.
A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barreled through the city late Wednesday afternoon, leveling it.
By nightfall, the city was dark. Roads were impassable. Signs were blown down in front of restaurants, businesses were unrecognizable and sirens wailed off and on. Debris littered the streets and sidewalks.
College students in a commercial district near campus used flashlights to check out the damage.
At Stephanie's Flowers, owner Bronson Englebert used the headlights from two delivery vans to see what valuables he could remove. The storm blew out the front of his store, pulled down the ceiling and shattered the windows, leaving only the curtains flapping in the breeze.
"It even blew out the back wall, and I've got bricks on top of two delivery vans now," Englebert said.
A group of students stopped to help Englebert, carrying out items like computers and printers and putting them in his van.
The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out.
The governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.
President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets. About 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed around the state.
"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," Obama said in a statement.
Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled by downed trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in medians.
"What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time," Mayor Walter Maddox said.
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.
The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant about 30 miles west of Huntsville lost offsite power. The Tennessee Valley Authority-owned plant had to use seven diesel generators to power the plant's three units. The safety systems operated as needed and the emergency event was classified as the lowest of four levels, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
In Huntsville, meteorologists found themselves in the path of severe storms and had to take shelter in a reinforced steel room, turning over monitoring duties to a sister office in Jackson, Miss. Meteorologists saw multiple wall clouds, which sometimes spawn tornadoes, and decided to take cover, but the building wasn't damaged.
"We have to take shelter just like the rest of the people," said meteorologist Chelly Amin, who wasn't at the office at the time but spoke with colleagues about the situation.
In Kemper County, Miss., in the east-central part of the state, sisters Florrie Green and Maxine McDonald, and their sister-in-law Johnnie Green, all died in a mobile home that was destroyed by a storm.
"They were thrown into those pines over there," Mary Green, Johnnie Green's daughter-in-law, said, pointing to a wooded area. "They had to go look for their bodies."
In Choctaw County, Miss., a Louisiana police officer was killed Wednesday morning when a towering sweetgum tree fell onto his tent as he shielded his young daughter with his body, said Kim Korthuis, a supervisory ranger with the National Park Service. The girl wasn't hurt.
The 9-year-old girl was brought to a motor home about 100 feet away where campsite volunteer Greg Maier was staying with his wife. He went back to check on the father and found him dead.
In a neighborhood south of Birmingham, Austin Ransdell and a friend had to hike out after the house where he was living was crushed by four trees. No one was hurt.
As he walked away from the wreckage, trees and power lines crisscrossed residential streets, and police cars and utility trucks blocked a main highway.
"The house was destroyed. We couldn't stay in it. Water pipes broke; it was flooding the basement," he said. "We had people coming in telling us another storm was coming in about four or five hours, so we just packed up."
Not far away, Craig Branch was stunned by the damage.
"Every street to get into our general subdivision was blocked off," he said. "Power lines are down; trees are all over the road. I've never seen anything like that before."
The storms came on the heels of another system that killed 10 people in Arkansas and one in Mississippi earlier this week.
Reeves reported from Tuscaloosa. Associated Press Writers Holbrook Mohr in Choctaw County, Miss.; Anna McFall and John Zenor in Montgomery; Bill Fuller and Alan Sayre in New Orleans; Dorie Turner in Atlanta and Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn., contributed to this report.