PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. (AP) - Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out entire towns across a wide swath of the South, killing at least 248 people in the deadliest outbreak in nearly 40 years, and officials said Thursday they expected the death toll to rise.
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.
The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.
Dave Imy, a meteorologist with the prediction service, said the number of deaths was the most in a tornado outbreak since 1974, when 315 people died.
In Alabama, where as many as a million people were without power, Gov. Robert Bentley said 2,000 national guard troops had been activated and were helping to search devastated areas for people still missing. He said the National Weather Service and forecasters did a good job of alerting people, but there is only so much that can be done to deal with tornadoes a mile wide.
"You cannot prepare against an F5," the most powerful category on a scale for measuring wind intensity, he said.
One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama.
President Obama is expected to visit Alabama on Friday. He issued the following statement Thursday morning:
"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. 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. I just spoke to Governor Bentley and told him that I have ordered the Federal Government to move quickly in our response and informed him that I approved his request for emergency Federal assistance, including search and rescue assets. While we may not know the extent of the damage for days, 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."