tv NBC Nightly News NBC April 28, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
on our broadcast tonight, path of destruction. one of the worst tornado outbreaks in american history devastates the south. the staggering death toll and damage. the astonishing images of twisters on the ground leveling entire communities. and the college town that took a direct hit. and the larger question, what's causing all of this? "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening. we have never seen anything quite like this in the recent history of the united states. and tonight, we begin our coverage of a tragedy in the american south following some of
the most violent weather this planet can produce in any one place at one time. in one night, 173 separate tornadoes reportedly touched down. if that number holds, it will stand as a single-day record. that would make it the deadliest tornado outbreak since 1974. here are the numbers as of now. there are 280 americans confirmed dead so far across a five-state region. more than 1,000 people injured, damage that will take years to clean up and fix. and full disclosure here, we signed off the broadcast last night saying we would see you from london for the royal wedding coverage, and we went to london indeed overnight but realizing this death toll, the scope of this strajied rng we came back to begin our coverage of this story, so we do. our team is spread out across the region. they're all in place. we want to begin with jim cantore. he's in tuscaloosa, alabama. jim, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian.
the winds with this powerful tornado probably in excess of 200 miles an hour, were enough to not only knock down the tree, but peel the bark off it behind me, the these winds have left thousands of people homeless tonight. this is the moment one of the massive tornadoes ripped through tuscaloosa. student chris england could hardly catch his breath as the funnel approached. just one of many that touched down in states across the south overnight. buildings flattened, cars tossed around like toys, entire communities gone. at least 195 lives lost in alabama, 36 in tuscaloosa alone. >> we have neighborhoods that have basically been removed from the map. we have businesses that will no longer be able to engage in commerce. >> reporter: those who rode out the storm like college student justin johnson, realize they're lucky to be alive. >> i went outside, opened the door, and just start crying. that's the only thing you could do.
>> reporter: it hit in ringgold, georgia, without warning. first responders were on the scene quickly, but no one was prepared for this. >> it's like something out of a movie. it doesn't seem real at this point. >> reporter: rooftops on apartment buildings in georgia and all across the region peeled off like sardine cans. at least 14 killed here. mississippi looks like a war zone, more than 30 dead here. rescuers continue to search for survivors. not even the smithville cemetery spared. >> there were branches falling out of the sky before we even knew the tornado was coming. >> reporter: as funnels like this extraordinary storm chaser material from philadelphia, mississippi, touched down, many complained that the warning sirens were quiet. some complained that only a few tv stations were able to give people time enough to take cover. >> we saw stunned looks on people faces as this caught everyone by surprise. >> this storm left floodwaters in virginia, tennessee, and maryland.
tens of thousands displaced. in alabama, as many as a million people without power. houses have been taken right down to their foundations. 1,400 national guardsmen have been mobilized. president obama has declared a state of emergency in alabama. he'll travel here tomorrow to survey the damage firsthand. >> we can't control when or where a terrible storm will strike, but we can control how we respond to it. i want every american affected by the disaster know that the federal government will do everything we can to help you recover. >> devastated residents hope help comes quickly as the entire region reels from the worst outbreak of tornadoes in nearly 40 years. jim cantore, nbc news, tuscaloosa, alabama. >> i'm tom in tuscaloosa, alabama. the massive tornado a mile wide tore through here as a busy time, as people came home from work and students from school. >> this was monster. >> tuscaloosa is home to the university of alabama. 95,000 people live here. 30,000 at the university alone.
>> words can't even describe the feeling you go through when you open the door. and just everything is just a disaster. >> reporter: 36 are confirmed dead. among them, three students from the college. all friends of jesse strickland. >> this is my friend scott. >> their house ripped right off its slab. today, she sifted through the rubble, finding her friend scott's shirt. >> there's nothing you can say, nothing that's going to fix this or make it better or bring them back. >> reporter: across the street, 22-year-old angela smith says she's lucky she can retrieve what's left of her home. she hid in the closet with her dog when the tornado hit. >> were you praying and what were you praying for? >> i was praying. i said, dear lord, please keep me safe. that's the only thing i could do. vrt smith and her husband got married just four days ago. the newlyweds are now among thousands dealing with disaster. >> there's a reason why this happens to people.
you pick up your pieces and keep moving. >> reporter: search and rescue efforts will continue through the night as the city tries to figure out how to rebuild. tuscaloosa, alabama. this is mark potter in ringgold, georgia, a town of about 3,000 near the tennessee border. the tornado sat down here near interstate 75 and destroyed half the business district as trent scott rolled his camera. >> god bless ringgold, be with them, oh, god, be with them. >> sheryl brewer weathered the storm in her car, overturned in the thrashing wind with her and her husband sitting inside. >> my husband put his arm through the steering wheel, and i grabbed hold of him and the steering wheel, and it flipped us around a few times and rolled us. we knocked over a light post, and we started out down there about 100 feet down the parking lot, and we ended up right here. it was scary. >> reporter: in the local taco
bell, the assistant manager hid deep inside the building. >> when we came out, it looked like a bomb had been dropped on our store. just total devastation. >> reporter: when the storm was approaching, some of the motorists on the interstate pulled off and sought shelter in the roadside motels, right where the tornado would make a direct hit. for ringgold, the loss of four motels, a gas station, restaurants, and many other businesses is devastating. >> with the economy the way it is today and all these businesses and all these people losing their jobs, it's just hard to accept. >> reporter: resident are stunned, thinking they would never see anything like this. mark potter, nbc news, georgia. >> this is ron motte in mississippi where at least 32 people died, though the toll is feared to go higher. the destruction in smithville is absolute. the pain and suffering just as certain. >> to see people you see every day, and now our lives are
totally shattered, but you know, a lot of us are still living. that's to be thankful for. >> mike whitehead said he's thankful no one was home. when the tornado hit, leveling his house of 17 years. >> we are just blessed to be alive. all this is just replaceable, it's just stuff, but we're still alive and we have neighbors across the road here, they lost their lives. >> reporter: the town high school heavily damaged. grocery store no more. the funeral home where some of those killed might have been remembered in coming days, it, too, is gone. >> i declare a state of emergency in 39 counties, and today, that is being expand eed state-wide. >> this video was caught on camera, the fury as long as the path. >> three-quarters of a mile wide. before it hit, there were branches falling out of the sky before we knew the tornado was coming. >> reporter: but ferocious winds
and flying debris weren't only life threatening forces in the air. hail, heavy rain, and flooding left their mark. lives and livelihoods, neighbors and neighborhoods vanished or changed in an instant. >> we grabbed our quilt and our personal belongings and we went into the board room and got under the board table. and when it was over with, everything was gone. >> reporter: governor haley barbour deployed the national guard here to assist in some of the hardest hit area, and tomorrow, people will start going back home to see what if anything is left. >> ron motte, rounding up our team of extraordinary coverage. just relentless. that's all you can say, a staggering area. a foot note, president obama, who you saw earlier, will travel to alabama tomorrow to view the damage, meet with state and local officials and families. later in the day, he flies to the kennedy space center in florida to watch the shuttle launch. dr. greg forbes is about the best known veteran in the weather business. he's the weather channel's severe weather expert. he's been kind enough to join us tonight from their very busy
headquarters in atlanta. and dr. forbes, i know you got to see this by air this afternoon. this is hardly your first time. but i'm curious as to where you place this event in recent weather history. >> well, the damage, brian, is staggering. we flew over into the tuscaloosa, alabama, area. i'm calling it as bad or worst i have ever seen. so many structures that are just piles of rubble. a lot of candidates that are i would think are possibly ef-5 type tornado damage. around 200 miles an hour, maybe stronger than that. it's staggering. >> and let's be candid. when you and i go home, you see friends and family, you get e-mail from people you know. people ask the same question, what's going on here? is this something we have done? what has happened to the climate because it seems so much of what we cover is relentless weather related tragedy? >> yeah, it really has been a remarkable april, a record april, maybe the most tornadic
month of any month on record, and the atmosphere has been in a frenzy. the jet stream keeps blasting across the country, and they warm moist air from the gulf of mexico feeds the inability and we have had tornado after tornado. it doesn't mean it's going to continue, but we're worried because may on average is the most tornadic month we have in the year. >> that's right, and we would normally be heading into an even more active season. is there a pattern, a jet stream we should watch closely that could be more of a predictor knowing what we know now about april? >> if the jet stream keeps blasting eastward the way it has been, we keep getting warmer and warmer into the season, we get more instable. unless we see a big shift in the jet stream pattern, we're going continue to see tornadoes. >> dr. greg forbes, millions of americans watching the coverage out of that studio. you have had a very eventful 24
hours. and it goes on. we appreciate your time joining us tonight. when we come back, our coverage of all this continues, of course. more on this historymaker in the american south. part of this brutal, mean season of weather. and a closer look at some of those twisters and an expert explaining what was happening inside these monsters.
just some of these relentless images we have been watching from last night's series of storms. the tornadoes that cut across the south. we're going to take another look through an expert's eyes for an explanation of what is happening all the while inside these powerful storms. whether channel meteorologist brian norcross has more. >> reporter: we knew this was going to be a very bad day. the meteorology was lining up, the atmosphere looked perfect for developing supercell thunderstorms that produce big tornadoes. what is happening right there is either debris or strong winds are shorting out power lines, and that's making the transformers explode. look at that car, just went past. there's a lesson, if you know there are tornadoes in the area, do not drive in your car. those people were just fantastically luckily. this is mother nature nearing her worst. look at this incredible wedge tornado. you see the shape of it here.
look at the debris. this is a very, very fast-moving air. 100, 150, 200 miles an hour air. it's wrenching roofs, signs, anything that is loose. the real heavy stuff tends to fall out, as we see here, but lighter stuff can be carried 10, 20, even 100 miles ahead with the storm. i don't remember ever seeing so many shots of these extremely powerful tornadoes with winds maybe in the 200-mile-an-hour range coming out of the south as we have seen this year. in spite of the fact that you really can't tell that the storm is moving through this frame, it is. it's zooming through densely populated tuscaloosa, alabama. here's the same tornado from a different angle, and it looks like it's right on top of this guy. it's actually not a good thing that he was this close to it and shooting. this is like watching a hurricane come ashore. we know when we see it happening
that people are going to die. >> brian norcross, absolutely correct at the weather channel. too dangerous there, but this tragedy has also given us this video that can be studied of these things up close. brian also points out, as we should tell you, the tornadoes have served to debunk a couple massive urban myths. number one, that tornadoes don't hit cities or urban areas. the other is tornadoes don't go into the mountains. as we have seen in the last 24 hours, these tornadoes have done both. another break. when we come back here tonight, the global event across the atlantic where we were certainly planning to be this evening, and the preparations for the big day.
there's the abbey where it takes place tomorrow. in london, it's finally and officially the eve of the royal wedding. it's a cold night there, and already the streets are filling up with people. remember, upwards of a million people are expected to jam into london, see what they can see, hear what they can hear. nbc's kate snow, who will have a better than average vantage point on this with us from westminster abbey tonight. kate, good evening. >> reporter: we have a better than average vantage point now and the tents are packed four and five deep on the streets around the abbey. there is the possibility of rain
in the forecast tomorrow, but no one is letting that put a damper on the big day. late today, a surprise appearance by the groom greeting well wishers on the eve of his wedding. earlier today, kate arrived at the goring hotel, where she'll stay tonight. when she leaves tomorrow morning, her fans may not have as good a view. a white canopy was put up to make sure her wedding dress remains a secret. >> off the rope, please! >> this morning, kate was spotted with prince harry at westminster abbey, one final run-through with the bridesmaids and pageboys. even camilla came out to say hello. among those invited to the wedding, london's entire diplomatic korp corp. today, one of those invitations was withdrawn. the british government said in light of attacks of civilians by
syrian government forces, the presence of the syrian ambassador would be unacceptable and he should not attend. otherwise, the wedding plans seem to be going without a hitch. all along the procession route today from westminster abbey to buckingham palace, people made themselves at home. british historian and nbc news consultant andrew roberts said some of the traditions we'll see tomorrow go back 1,000 years. how meticulous is the planning for the procession that happens? >> absolutely split-second. everything has to be absolutely perfect. if you have one or two people out of step, the entire of the rest of the procession gets out of step as well. >> reporter: the official program for the wedding is online now with a thank you from the bride and groom. they write, we are both so delighted you were able to join us in celebrating what we hope will be one of the happiest days of our lives. the wedding hasn't even happened yet, but part of the service tomorrow looks ahead to the future already.
it's a prayer that god grant the couple the gift of children, brian. >> so kate, with a million people expected, 2.4 billion watching around the world, give or take, is security stifling yet, and if not, is there a moment where it's going to clamp down around you? >> not stifling yet, although very tight. there are a lot of police out on the streets. roads are closed already this evening. they have already made several arrests of protesters who got out of hand. one thing to note, though, this procession route is well traveled. it's government buildings, a lot of close caption tv cameras hanging on this route, so it should be fairly well protected, brian. >> kate snow, part of the team in london for the story all day tomorrow. and you'll be able to see it all on the nbc station starting tomorrow morning, 4:00 a.m. eastern, 3:00 a.m. central, 1:00 a.m. pacific with matt and meredith leading the way. when we come back tonight, the sights and sounds across the south after what happened, what nature did there, what's left
all of it is just unimaginable, and the pictures and the sounds tell the story. >> oh, my god. >> please, god, be with them. >> today is a sad day in georgia as it is in alabama and other parts of the country. >> we are just arriving on the scene here in tuscaloosa. look at this. cars, metal, everything just thrown across the road. look at this vehicle, just wrangled. metal just ripped apart. >> we have utter destruction. we have neighborhoods that have basically been removed from the map.
and we've got thousands upon thousands of citizens who have lost all their possessions. >> you have to go all the way back to 1974 to even see a tornado outbreak that approaches what we saw yesterday. >> words can't even describe the feeling you go through when you open that door. >> you rebuild. you take it all in stride. and pray that everybody is safe. >> we can't control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it. we stand with every american affected by this disaster in the days and weeks to come. >> still difficult to process, but already some people are jumping in and helping out. even though their campus was hit, university of alabama students went out as volunteers in teams today, helping people clean up, box what could be salvaged. we know a number of you want to help. we have put some information to that end on our website tonight, nightly.msnbc.com.