Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN) - Storms of near-epic proportions cut wide swaths of destruction across the South, killing at least 272 people in six states, ravaging whole neighborhoods and crippling towns.
The vast majority of fatalities occurred in Alabama, where 184 people perished, said Yasamie August, Alabama Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman.
A breakdown provided by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's office showed that violent weather claimed lives in 16 Alabama counties. Thirty-five people perished in DeKalbCounty in northeastern Alabama; the death toll in the hard-hit city of Tuscaloosa, in west-central Alabama, was at 36 as of Thursday morning, said Mayor Walter Maddox.
"I don't know how anyone survived," Maddox said. "We're used to tornadoes here in Tuscaloosa. It's part of growing up. But when you look at the path of destruction that's likely 5 to 7 miles long in an area half a mile to a mile wide ... it's an amazing scene. There's parts of the city I don't recognize, and that's someone that's lived here his entire life."
Thirty-two people died in Mississippi, emergency officials said. Tennessee emergency officials said 33 people died in that state. Fourteen were dead in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Arkansas.
Entire neighborhoods were leveled and hundreds of thousands of people were without power in the affected regions. As of 10 a.m. (11 a.m. ET), Alabama Power said nearly 348,500 customers had no electricity. As of Thursday morning, about 61,000 people in Georgia were without power, according to Georgia Power and the Georgia Electric Membership Corp. Bentley estimated as many as half a million to a million people had no electricity in Alabama.
"This could be one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the nation's history by the time it's over," CNN Meteorologist Sean Morris said.
How many deaths will it take, to change our building standards? The answer may be poured concrete like they build in Puerto Rico.
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