'Road to recovery long and hard' after tornado disaster - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

'Road to recovery long and hard' after tornado disaster

Posted:
Map of the destructive storms that swept through Alabama. (Source: AEMA) Map of the destructive storms that swept through Alabama. (Source: AEMA)
A debris-littered yard shows signs of hope with an American flag. (Source: WBRC) A debris-littered yard shows signs of hope with an American flag. (Source: WBRC)
Volunteers, called Ghostbusters, deliver smiles and supplies in Tuscaloosa. (Source: WSFA) Volunteers, called Ghostbusters, deliver smiles and supplies in Tuscaloosa. (Source: WSFA)
Cleanup is in progress after storms swept through the South. (Source: WBRC) Cleanup is in progress after storms swept through the South. (Source: WBRC)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley tours the damage in Tuscaloosa, AL. (Source: WAFF) Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley tours the damage in Tuscaloosa, AL. (Source: WAFF)

(RNN) - With the cleanup process under way and the death toll holding steady, federal, state and local officials are teaming up to put the pieces back together for the broken communities slashed by last week's devastating tornadoes.

Across the South, volunteers from everywhere are pitching in to aid some of the hardest-hit communities struck by the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1925.

"I don't think words can fairly express the level of devastation here," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who on Sunday toured the damage in Alabama. "I am not articulate enough. This is not going to be a quick comeback or an immediate one, but it will be, in my view, a complete one when all is said and done."

Saying he's praying for survivors, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley acknowledged the state is now entering "the recovery process" following last week's deadly tornado outbreak that killed 236.

"We will recover those loved ones who perished, with the dignity they deserve," he said in a speech to the joint body of the Alabama Legislature and broadcast to the entire state Tuesday night. "And we will proceed through this lengthy process with care and respect."

Bentley called the outbreak "the greatest natural disaster ever to hit our state" but pledged "we will see that Alabama is rebuilt."

"The road to recovery will be long and hard. But I will share that road with you as it leads to a greater, stronger Alabama," he said.

Total fatalities

Alabama - 236

Tennessee - 36

Mississippi - 35

Georgia - 15

Arkansas - 15

Virginia - 5

Louisiana - 2

Kentucky - 1

Sadly, there are people taking advantage of the disaster victims, stealing items from the destroyed homes. Mayor Walt Maddox of Tuscaloosa imposed a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the damaged areas to help prevent the looting.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said there are arrests being made, and these cases will be taken seriously.

"We have made it clear that we are going to make prosecuting looters a high priority, hopefully discouraging people from coming to this area, and that's one of our missions," Strange said.

The scope of the disaster

More than half of Alabama's 67 counties, 38 of them, are now eligible for disaster assistance.

"When you see local, state and federal people cooperating like this, it really makes a difference," Bentley said when Obama came to visit Alabama on Friday.

Charlie Sheen even decided to make a stop in Alabama on Monday to see the storms' destruction first-hand.

"It's unlike anything I've ever seen," Sheen said during an interview with the Birmingham, AL, TV station WBRC. "I'm hopeful that I can do whatever I can to provide some compassion, hope."

At least 345 people were killed across eight states, including at least 236 in Alabama, which took the brunt of the storm.

There are 36 confirmed deaths in Tennessee, 35 in Mississippi, 15 in Georgia, 15 in Arkansas, five in Virginia, two in Louisiana and one in Kentucky.

Alabama's numbers were adjusted downward from 250, but a spokeswoman with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) said it will no longer release numbers until all counties have been individually searched, and all missing are accounted for.

FEMA has said it will continue to work closely with the states to support the needs of the disaster survivors and their communities.

"FEMA is part of a team that continues to work with communities to help them rebuild and recover," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. "This administration will bring the full support of the federal government and its partners to bear to support the states, families and communities devastated by these deadly tornadoes, for as long as it takes."

FEMA money will cover some of the debris removal, leaving the affected communities' cash-strapped local governments trying to figure out how to pay for the rest of the recovery effort.

In Alabama, Bentley said the state will pay local governments' share for 30 days.

A month of fury

It's not just the numbers of deceased that are breaking records. The month of April turned out to be one for the record books.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 312 tornadoes were spawned during the 24-hour period between April 27 and 28, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

Previously, the largest previous number of tornadoes spawned in one April event occurred in 1974 with 148.

National Weather Service estimates indicate that more than 600 tornadoes were produced in April, far surpassing the normal average for the month, 161.

Flooding is now making it difficult for some of the affected areas to rebuild and recover.

According to WAFB, areas from eastern Oklahoma through Arkansas and into the mid-Mississippi Valley and the Ohio River basin have seen 10-20 inches of rain in the past four weeks, which is far above normal.

The numbers could reach near-record levels during mid- to late May.

Meanwhile, the number of customers who remain without power in Alabama has been cut by nearly two-thirds, from 1.1 million to around 407,000, according to AEMA. It could be another week for power is restored in some places.

One of the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history occurred in March 1925 killing 747 people. An April 1974 storm spurred Congress to pass the Disaster Relief Act, which saw the formation of FEMA.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, over the past three years, property insurers have paid out more than $30 billion in claims due to tornadoes and thunderstorms.

Copyright 2011 RNN. All rights reserved.