Storms and tornadoes ravaging Alabama and neighboring states have killed 72 people in the South, officials said Wednesday night.
The “deaths in Alabama were related to today’s weather,” Valerie Hayes, a spokeswoman for the state’s Emergency Management Agency, told Reuters. t least 58 people died in the state in the first day since the storms began.
The severe weather also claimed the lives of at least 11 people in Mississippi, including a Louisiana police officer who died protecting his daughter from a falling tree at their campsite. The girl was unharmed.
“She wasn’t hurt, just scared and soaking wet,” campsite volunteer Greg Maier told The Associated Press.
President Obama declared a state of emergency in Alabama on Wednesday night, ordering Federal aid to kick in for disaster relief.
“Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives,” he said. “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.”
Waltor Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, said the city was largely turned to rubble by the tornado. “The city experienced widespread damage from a tornado that cut a path of destruction deep into the heart of the city,” Maddox said in a statement.
Earlier in the evening, the extreme weather knocked out power lines and caused three nuclear reactors to trip and shut, according to Reuters. A spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency said the units seemed to have shut normally, and that generators had kicked in.
Melanie Cade, 31, said her Mississippi home sustained serious damage, but she was thankful to have escaped safely with her three children.
“I didn’t care what happened to the house,” Cade said. “I was just glad we got out of there.”