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Tragedy And Aftermath

Mammoth tornadoes that swept through the South on April 27 hit Alabama the hardest, leaving 238 dead and thousands homeless.

A mile-wide, monster tornado moves through Tuscaloosa around 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 27.

A mile-wide, monster tornado moves through Tuscaloosa around 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 27.

AP Photo/The Tuscaloosa News, Dusty Compton

Mammoth tornadoes that swept through the South on April 27 hit Alabama the hardest, leaving 238 dead and thousands homeless. Tornados tracked from Tuscaloosa to DeKalb County, with 42 counties declared disaster areas by the federal government.

The National Weather Service offices in Birmingham and Huntsville determined the storm system spawned 16 tornadoes in Alabama—two of them the most severe on the five-point ratings scale, eight at the #4 level and six at the #3 level. Experts say it was the worst tornado strike in the U.S. since the Tri-State tornadoes that hit Missouri, Illinois and Indiana in 1925.

Insured property and auto damages throughout the South were estimated at between $3.7 billion and $5.5 billion, according to Reuters, citing consultant firms that specialize in disaster modeling. Damages in Alabama were estimated to be greater than $2 billion.

Over 3,000 workers in Alabama filed for unemployment compensation benefits as a result of the tornadoes. The most widespread economic damage was to agriculture crops, with the $5 billion a year poultry crop being the hardest hit—over 200 large poultry houses destroyed and 180 damaged. The storm caused temporary shut downs of two auto plants—Mercedes-Benz near Tuscaloosa and Toyota's engine plant in Huntsville. Cliffs Natural Resources reported its Oak Grove mine, 25 miles south of Birmingham, was badly damaged.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials said they would leave it up to local officials to make final decisions on solutions for the thousands left homeless. The options included mobile homes, apartments and some 1,000 foreclosed homes FEMA officials said they have identified in Alabama. In May, state officials were still assessing the number of homes destroyed. Jefferson County emergency management officials estimated 4,800 homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has designated $26 million in community block grants for Alabama for infrastructure and housing projects.

State Farm, Alfa, Allstate, Farmers and Cotton States—companies with the largest share of homeowners’ insurance policies in Alabama—set up over 20 satellite claims centers in 12 Alabama communities. State Farm reported over 6,000 claims filed in the first 24 hours.

Allstate CEO Tom Wilson said claims region-wide would total $1.4 billion and indicated the company would make some long-term actuarial adjustments. He noted that outsized, “non-modeled,” storms have been on the rise for four years and said, “We are acting, in running our homeowners business, as if that is a permanent change as opposed to an anomaly.”

In the week following the storm, over 1 million people were without electricity across the South. Over 560,000 homes and businesses were temporarily without power in central Alabama, the area served by Alabama Power. The Tennessee Valley Authority reported nearly 650,000 customers lost power in north Alabama. In Huntsville, which escaped major property damage, Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park were among the last areas to have power restored. Alagasco temporarily shut down natural gas service to around 2,000 customers in the Tuscaloosa area in order to repair leaks.
 

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