States Begin Cleanup After Punishing Tornadoes

Originally published on April 18, 2011 5:17 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Several southern states are still staggering under the damage this morning of powerful storms that roared across the region, leaving a trail of destruction. More than 240 tornadoes were reported in the region after the twisters began Thursday in Oklahoma.

LOUISE KELLY: They spread eastward then, hitting Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama, and then surging through the Carolinas and into Virginia. The twisters flattened buildings, overturned cars and downed power lines. More than 40 people were killed, about half of them in North Carolina, a state where tornadoes are relatively rare.

BEVERLY PERDUE: We're beginning to recover from what we believe is the most widespread tornadoes we've seen since the mid- '80s.

LOUISE KELLY: That's North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, who declared a state of emergency.

MONTAGNE: Many residents across the state are homeless as a result of the storm. Schools are closed, including Shaw University in the capital, Raleigh. That's where North Carolina Public Radio's Leoneda Inge begins our coverage.

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LEONEDA INGE: U.S. Senator Kay Hagan spent Sunday touring some of the hardest hit areas of the state. Shaw University was on the list.

KAY HAGAN: Well, I hate meeting again under these circumstances.

IRMA MCCLAURIN: I know. I know. (Unintelligible) We got lucky though.

INGE: That's Hagan with Shaw president Irma McClaurin. There were no major injuries at the historically black university. But the institution took a direct hit from the storm and McClaurin says there's no way to repair shattered dormitories, the cafeteria and student center this semester. So they're closing early.

MCCLAURIN: Branches are still hanging off and we won't know how long those things will be cleaned up. So we're doing everything we can to work with the students to make sure that they get home safely.

INGE: Athena Curry is a freshman at Shaw and says she is still pretty shaken.

ATHENA CURRY: We were in the hallway. We were relaxing and everything like that. And then first the lights cut off. And once the lights cut off, we heard this big boom. And what the boom was all the glass breaking. So we're in the hallway, we're panicking.

INGE: Stories of panic and fright are being told across more than 20 counties in North Carolina that were in the path of at least 62 tornado touchdowns. Governor Beverly Perdue spent Sunday visiting devastated communities.

PERDUE: I am not shocked at all, but I was truly - I was truly sad, almost to the point of being tearful at times, to talk to the people.

INGE: Perdue is back on the road today, traveling to devastated areas. She'll visit Bertie County. Reports put the death toll there at 11 people, several from the same family. For NPR News, I'm Leoneda Inge.

MONTAGNE: Pastor Mike Johnson says volunteers have been busy doing what they can.

MIKE JOHNSON: Although there's sadness at the loss of life, obviously at the same there's an optimistic feel, and I guess the people are actually pulling together. We've had so many people removing debris that we've almost cleaned up the debris site.

MONTAGNE: Back in North Carolina, Governor Beverly Perdue made a similar point, saying communities will have to rely on one another as they rebuild.

PERDUE: The state and the counties that have been touched have been hurt badly or destroyed. And the best thing that all of us can begin to think about other than our prayers, is how we can reach out and help our neighbors.

MONTAGNE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending teams to several of the states hit by the storms. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.