Oklahoma, Apr 18: A furious storm system that kicked up tornadoes, flash floods and hail as big as softballs has claimed at least 40 lives on a rampage that began in Oklahoma days ago, then smashed across several southern states as it reached a new and deadly pitch in North Carolina and Virginia
Emergency crews searched for victims in hard-hit swathes of North Carolina, where 62 tornadoes were reported from the worst spring storm in two decades to hit the state.
Eleven people were confirmed dead in Bertie County, a local official said.The state's death toll reached at least 18 people on Sunday.
In Sanford, about 40 miles (65 kilometres) southwest of capital city Raleigh, a busy shopping district was pummelled by the storms, with some businesses losing rooftops in what observers described as a ferocious tornado.The Lowe's Home Improvement Centre in Sanford looked flattened, with jagged beams and siding sticking up from the pancaked entrance.
Remarkably, no one was seriously injured at the store, thanks to a quick-thinking manager who herded more than 100 people into a back area with no windows to shatter.
Donald Pardue watched the storm as it tore through Sanford.
"It was just a massive thick cloud with debris, all kinds of debris spiralling around it. There was pieces of all kind of metal, boards, just a complete spiral," he said.
Pardue said he had not yet had the chance to return to his home to find if it is still standing.In Raleigh, three family members died in a mobile home park, said a Wake County spokeswoman.At that trailer park, residents lined up outside Sunday and asked police guarding the area when they might get back in.
Governor Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency and said the 62 tornadoes reported were the most since March 1984, when a storm system spawned 22 twisters in the Carolinas that killed 57 people - 42 in North Carolina - and injured hundreds.Meanwhile, at least five deaths were reported in Virginia.
Authorities warned the toll was likely to rise further Sunday as searchers probed shattered homes and businesses.The storm claimed its first lives Thursday night in Oklahoma, then roared through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.Authorities have said seven died in Arkansas; seven in Alabama; two in Oklahoma; and one in Mississippi.
At one point, more than 250,000 people went without power in North Carolina before emergency utility crews began repairing downed lines.But scattered outages were expected to linger at least until Monday.
Among areas hit by power outages was Raleigh, a bustling city of more than 400,000 people where some of the bigger downtown thoroughfares were blocked by fallen trees early Sunday. AP