PRATTVILLE, Ala. - After touring a neighborhood where some homes were completely destroyed and many others heavily damaged by a tornado, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley noted that 23 volunteers had come to help clean up one of the mangled homes.
"One of the great things about living in Alabama — and I say this after every major emergency we have — it truly is amazing to see what's happening out there with all the families in this state," Riley said Monday.
About 50 people were injured when the tornado ripped through the area Sunday, and about 200 homes and 40 businesses were damaged or destroyed. Two people were listed in serious condition Monday, said Todd Stacy, a spokesman for the governor.
Both Riley and Mayor Jim Byard said they were working with Federal Emergency Management Agency preliminary assessment teams to determine whether the area will be eligible for federal emergency management assistance.
The tornado was part of a system that swept across the Southeast on Sunday, damaging homes elsewhere in Alabama and in parts of Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.
The violent weather continued into early Monday, when a tornado ripped apart a house in Hookerton, N.C., slightly injuring three people.
The tornado that struck Prattville, northwest of Montgomery, tore up a path about a quarter-mile wide and had winds of 140 to 150 mph, said meteorologist Jim Stefkovich at the National Weather Service's Birmingham office.
"God was watching over our city last night," Byard said, adding that if the storm had hit in the middle of the night as happened in northern Alabama earlier this month, it could have been fatal.
The death toll from those storms, part of a tornado outbreak that ripped across several Southern states Feb. 5 and 6, rose by one to 57 on Monday after a Tennessee man died of his injuries, emergency management officials said.
Donna Albright's destroyed home was the first stop on Riley's visit to Prattville. She said she had gone into the garage Sunday afternoon to get a battery-powered radio after the power went out. When the garage door started shaking from the wind, she ran back into the house and she and her husband took shelter in the bathroom.
Albright said they heard a loud crash right after shutting the bathroom door and thought the roof had been ripped off. When it was over, they climbed out a window to find that the bathroom was virtually the only part of their house left standing.
A hot water heater sat on the driveway Monday with water trickling out as neighbors and family members dug through the wreckage, pulling out family photos, keepsakes, dishes, furniture and anything else that could be salvaged.
"That's the thing that they're most grateful for," Riley said of the residents he spoke to. "We can rebuild these homes, we can rebuild these communities, and we will."
Repair crews also were at work Monday in western and central Georgia, where the storms destroyed or damaged more than 50 homes Sunday, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Ten people were injured, two of them critically, the agency said.