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US search for survivors after lethal storms kill dozens

18 April 11 04:12
Damage in Raleigh, North Carolina, 17 April 2011

Rescuers are searching for survivors in North Carolina after three days of storms and tornadoes in the American South killed at least 45 people.

An emergency was declared in the state, which was hit by up to 62 tornadoes and suffered 21 deaths, the highest toll for any of the states affected.

Deaths were also reported in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia.

The storms moved out over the Atlantic on Sunday.

Officials in North Carolina said the number of victims might increase further as rescue teams searched remote areas.

Hailstones the size of grapefruit were reported as the storms swept through the region, creating flash floods as well as tornadoes.

The storms first struck Oklahoma on Thursday before sweeping eastward, and some parts saw their worst tornadoes in decades.

'Worse than Iraq'

More than 240 tornadoes were reported over the three days, including 62 in North Carolina, but the US National Weather Service's final numbers could be lower because some tornadoes may have been reported more than once.

Most of North Carolina's 21 confirmed deaths occurred in two rural counties - four in Bladen and 11 in Bertie.

Hitting Bertie about 1900 (2300 GMT) on Saturday, the storm swept some homes from their foundations and demolished others, flipping over cars.

At least three of those who died were from the same family.

One of the volunteers who searched the rubble was an Iraq war veteran who told county manager Zee Lamb he had been stunned by what he saw.

"He did two tours of duty in Iraq and the scene was worse than he ever saw in Iraq - that's pretty devastating," the county manager told the Associated Press news agency.

An estimated 200,000 homes in North Carolina were without power on Sunday

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue said the number of tornadoes had been the highest since 1984, when tornadoes killed 42 people.

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