Reuters-The death toll from three days of severe storms and tornadoes in the southern United States rose to 39 on Sunday, with hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed in North Carolina alone, weather and emergency officials said.
North Carolina accounted for the bulk of casualties and property losses, with 22 people killed and more than 80 others injured. Significant damage was reported in at least 15 counties and power was out to more than 200,000 people.
Seven additional deaths reported since Thursday in four other states – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma – brought the overall death toll from the storms to 39.
Dominion Virginia Power said the two nuclear reactors at its Surry Power Station in southeastern Virginia shut down automatically on Saturday when an apparent tornado touched down and cut off an electrical feed to the station.
Backup generators operated normally and both units “are in safe and stable condition,” the utility said in a statement.
“No release of radioactive material has occurred beyond those minor releases associated with normal station operations. These minor releases are below federally approved operating limits, and pose no threat to station workers or the public,” Dominion Viriginia Power said.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah confirmed on Sunday no radiation was released during the storm and shutdown. “Everything worked the way it should,” he said.
North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue declared a state of emergency on Saturday night, as well as a dozen or other counties.
Statewide, high winds destroyed 60 homes and damaged 400 others, said Julia Jarema, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management.
Bertie County in northeastern North Carolina was one of the hardest-hit areas, with 14 storm-related deaths reported there by the National Weather Service.
“Many communities have downed trees, power lines and a significant amount of debris on the roadways,” Doug Hoell, the head of the Emergency Management Division, said late Saturday.
Progress Energy, the main utility in eastern North Carolina, said other counties bearing the brunt of the storms were Lee, Harnett and Wake, which includes Raleigh, the state capital. 78.000 homes and businesses are still without power.
At the peak of the storm at about 4 p.m. Saturday, Hughes said 220,000 customers were without electricity. He said 1,000 utility workers were out making repairs and that most customers should have their power restored by midnight Monday.
“There are some parts where a tornado took the utility structure away and we cannot find it,” Hughes said. “So they’re literally having to build from the ground up.”
The deadly storms began in Oklahoma on Thursday night and moved through the Deep South on Friday and on to the East Coast on Saturday.
Weather experts said the storm system was the most intense so far this spring. Mussoline said on Sunday that 241 tornadoes were reported over three days with 50 twisters confirmed.
Preliminary data indicated it was the deadliest storm since February 2008, when 57 people died in an outbreak of tornadoes in the Deep South and Ohio Valley, Mussoline said.
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