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Tornado toll rises to 57

Published: 7:45AM Friday February 08, 2008 Source: Reuters

Communities across the US South grieved for the dead and tried to pick up their lives on Thursday after the deadliest round of tornadoes in nearly a quarter century killed 57 people.

Damage was likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Tennessee's Madison County alone estimated it had suffered $47 million in property damages.

Two additional deaths were confirmed on Thursday, one each in Tennessee and Alabama. Tennessee counted 32 dead, Arkansas 13, Kentucky seven and Alabama five. There were many injuries, with some survivors reported in critical condition.

Some storms in Tuesday night's onslaught packed hurricane-force winds. The US Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said at least two tornadoes had wind speeds from 265 to 321 kilometres per hour.

There were also many long-track tornadoes that hugged the ground for long periods, instead of skipping about as twisters often do, according to centre metrologist Greg Carbin.

It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in the United States since the mid-1980s.

In Tennessee the storms were the worst in terms of deaths since 1974 when storms took 47 lives, the Nashville Tennessean newspaper reported.

Macon County, northeast of Nashville near the Kentucky state line, suffered 14 deaths. President George Bush planned to visit on Friday.

Disaster response has been a hot issue since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when the federal government came under criticism for its slow response to the storm which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Arkansas officials said all those reported missing after the tornadoes were accounted for.

"We actually had four tornadoes in the state and one massive, killer storm that stayed on the ground for over an hour," said Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. The department was to begin damage assessments on Thursday.

In Kentucky the storm was so massive that all the state's 120 counties suffered damage, said emergency management spokesman Buddy Rogers.

"For February, it's an historical event," Rogers said. "We're subject to tornadoes in each month of the year, but the number of tornadoes - 14 touched down in 11 counties - that number from one event is an historical number."