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Homes and businesses along McFarland Blvd. are completely destroyed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on Wednesday. Dusty Compton/AP/Press Association Images

Death toll from huge US storms rises to 248

The southern states of Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama were all hit with extensive damage reported and raw video showing the incredible size of some tornadoes.

Updated 6.00 pm

THE DEATH TOLL from severe storms that punished six southern US states jumped to 248 people after Alabama canvassed its hard-hit counties for a new tally of lives lost.

Alabama’s state emergency management agency has now confirmed 162 deaths, up from at least 61 earlier. Earlier Governor Robert Bentley told ABC’s “Good Morning America”:

We expect that toll, unfortunately, to rise

Mississippi officials reported 32 dead in that state and Tennessee raised its report to 32 from six. Another 13 have been killed in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.

President Barack Obama says he will travel to Alabama on Friday to view storm damage and to meet with the governor and affected families.

The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Centre in Oklahoma sais it received 137 tornado reports into Wednesday night.

Some of the worst damage has been in the western city of Tuscaloosa, which is home to more than 83,000 people.

Sections of the city that’s home to the University of Alabama have been destroyed, the mayor said, and the city’s infrastructure was devastated.

Further north, a nuclear power plant west of Huntsville lost power and was operating on diesel generators.

In Tuscaloosa, news footage showed paramedics lifting a child out of a flattened home, with many neighboring buildings in the city also reduced to rubble.

A hospital there said its emergency room had admitted about 100 people, but had treated some 400. Charts weren’t even started for many patients because so many people were coming in at once. By midnight, only staff and patients were allowed inside.

This video - which is said to be of the tornado in Tuscaloosa – was posted online an gives  an idea of the size of the twister:

Mayor Walter Maddox told reporters that he expected the city’s death toll to rise:

What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time.

The storm system spread destruction Tuesday night and Wednesday from Texas to Virginia, and it was forecast to hit the Carolinas next before moving northeast.

President Obama said he had spoken with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets:

Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster.

Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled Wednesday night by downed trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in medians.

University officials said there didn’t appear to be significant damage on campus, and dozens of students and locals were staying at a 125-bed shelter in the campus recreation center.

Maddox said authorities were having trouble communicating, and 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed around the state. The flashing lights of emergency vehicles could be seen on darkened streets all over town, and some were using winches to remove flipped vehicles from the roadside.

In a commercial district near the university, students with flashlights checked out the damage. Signs were blown down in front of restaurants, businesses were unrecognizable and sirens whaled off and on throughout the night.

At Stephanie’s Flowers, owner Bronson Englebert used the headlights from two delivery vans to see what valuables he could remove the valuables.

He said he closed early, which was a good thing. The storm blew out the front of his store, pulled down the ceiling and shattered the windows, leaving only the curtains flapping in the breeze and the steel siding rattling. He added:

It even blew out the back wall, and I’ve got bricks on top of two delivery vans now

Storms also struck Birmingham, felling numerous trees that impeded emergency responders and those trying to leave hard-hit areas. The Birmingham News has posted numerous raw videos taken on cell phones and home cameras.

Surrounding Jefferson County reported 11 deaths; another hard-hit area was Walker County with eight deaths.

The rest of the deaths were scattered around the state, emergency officials said.

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant lost offsite power, and the Tennessee Valley Authority-owned plant had to use seven diesel generators to power the plant’s three units.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the safety systems have operated as needed and the emergency event was classified as the lowest of four levels.

In Huntsville, meteorologists found themselves in the path of tornado and had to evacuate the National Weather Service office.

In Choctaw County, Mississippi, a Louisiana police officer was killed Wednesday morning when a towering sweetgum tree fell onto his tent as he shielded his young daughter with his body, said Kim Korthuis, a supervisory ranger with the National Park Service. The girl wasn’t hurt.

The 9-year-old girl was brought to a motorhome about 100 feet away where campsite volunteer Greg Maier was staying with his wife, Maier said. He went back to check on the father and found him dead. Lieutenant. Wade Sharp, had been with the Covington Police Department for 19 years.

By late Wednesday, the state’s death toll had increased to 11 for the day, reported the Clarion Ledger. The governor also made an emergency declaration for much of the state.

In eastern Tennessee, a woman was killed by falling trees in her trailer in Chattanooga. Just outside the city in Tiftonia, what appeared to be a tornado also struck at the base of the tourist peak Lookout Mountain.

Tops were snapped off trees and insulation and metal roof panels littered the ground. Police officers walked down the street, spray-painting symbols on houses they had checked for people who might be inside.

Many around the region were happy to survive unscathed even if their houses didn’t.

- with additional reporting from AP

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