Tuscaloosa death toll expected to rise; 11 dead in Jefferson Co.

TUSCALOOSA, AL (RNN) - An especially violent spring storm tore through the state of Alabama on Wednesday, tearing a path of destruction across the state and killing at least 128 people.

In Tuscaloosa, a mile-wide tornado killed 15 people and injured hundreds, tossing boats from a store into an apartment complex, ripping holes in rooftops, and destroying a swath of retail establishments along a busy street.

Hundreds of buildings and homes were leveled by the tornado, and Wednesday night there were fears more victims could be buried beneath the rubble.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox says he expects the numbers of casualties to rise. Maddox planned to meet with members of the City Council to pass emergency powers, including a curfew, if necessary.

In a news conference, Maddox said the recovery of the city would be seen in the spirit of the people.

"Throughout Tuscaloosa, citizens are reaching out to each other and demonstrating that our faith will overcome all, even in this dark hour," he said.

The tornado barely missed the campus of the University of Alabama, although several off-campus housing complexes were damaged or destroyed.

Michael Neese, 21, a junior at the university, was in his apartment off 15th Street when the tornado passed by.

"It was like a white cloud just twirling in the parking lot next door to me," he said. "It tore Tuscaloosa up. All of 15th Street is gone."

Classes were canceled at the university, located near the heart of Tuscaloosa. The university student newspaper, The Crimson White, reported power outages across campus. The university designated a student recreation center as a shelter for displaced students.

At nearby Druid City Hospital, windows were blown out of several patient rooms and a waiting area, although the hospital is still able to treat patients.

"It was kind of a glancing blow," said Brad Fischer, communications director at DCH. "We're on emergency power. It took the main line that comes from the grid into the hospital, so we will be on emergency power for awhile."

Fischer said the hospital was starting to receive the injured, but he couldn't comment on the extent of the injuries yet.

In Birmingham, the tornado cut a terrifying figure along the city's downtown skyline.

The concourse at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport was evacuated as the severe weather moved east. Passengers were moved to a lower level of the airport and rescreened after the storm cleared.

Several people had to be rescued when an apartment roof collapsed in north Birmingham.

In all, 11 people died in Jefferson County and officials expect that number to rise.

Mark Kelly with the Jefferson County EMA says he expects the clean up effort to be a "multi-day recovery operation."

At least two others were killed in St. Clair County, east of Birmingham. The tornado touched down about 5:15 p.m.

Earlier in the day, three funnel clouds on the ground simultaneously twisted through Cullman County. One person was killed when a tree fell on a car, killing the passenger.

About a half-million people were without electricity statewide early Thursday, according to Alabama Power.

President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Alabama, clearing the way for FEMA assistance to help with the recovery efforts.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has mobilized approximately 1,400 Alabama National Guardsmen to provide emergency assistance to the Alabama counties impacted by the severe weather outbreak.

The troops will help with search and rescue, debris removal and provide security assistance to local police.

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