The Associated Press
A man inspects a house that was destroyed when a tornado ripped through Pratt City, Ala., last Wednesday afternoon.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Rain added to the misery of those in several Southern states trying to salvage what they could from homes badly damaged by deadly twisters, leaving them shivering in unseasonable temperatures in the low 50s.
Becky Curtis sat in the bathroom, one of the only dry spots in her small red-brick apartment in gray, chilly, Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, sorting through old cassette tapes. In another room, rain dripped through holes in the ceiling onto her hardwood floors.
"We're trying to get all this stuff out of here as fast as we can to save some mementoes," she said. The rain "definitely does not help."
Though the sun was supposed to be out again Wednesday in Birmingham, temperatures the next couple days are forecast to be
cooler there and in other areas of the South where many lost everything, including coats, sweat shirts and sweaters, leaving them with little to protect themselves from the chill.
The rain also didn't make the grim search for possibly more bodies under splintered homes and businesses any easier. The death toll in Alabama was reduced after officials started counting again because they were worried some of the victims might have been tallied twice.
Officials believe 236 people died in Alabama, accounting for about two-thirds of the 329 people killed in all, making it the nation's deadliest twister outbreak since the Great Depression.
At a makeshift relief center in the parking lot of a shuttered grocery store, volunteers in ponchos and rain gear were distributing assorted goods under a drizzly sky Tuesday.
"We've had a few deliveries," said volunteer Alfredo Ordonez, who was part of a group arriving from Tennessee. "Not as many as yesterday or the day before."
He said the center was running low on small tarps as people already picked them up in anticipation of the rain.
The financial and economic toll is far from being calculated.
Besides homes, hundreds of factories and other businesses were
destroyed, and many others were left without electricity, throwing
thousands out of work. It comes in an area where many people were
struggling to make ends meet even before the twisters flattened
neighborhoods in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi.
Unemployment in March ranged from 9.2 percent in Alabama to 10.2
percent in Mississippi.
The tornado that obliterated contractor Robert Rapley's house also swept away his livelihood, destroying his saws and his paint sprayer. He now faces the prospect of trying to recover with no way to earn a living.
"We lost everything," Rapley said as he climbed on the wreckage. "I can't even go to work."
Curtis Frederick, 28, couldn't find any work to provide for his three children aside from delivering newspapers. Then a twister wiped out his mobile home park in Tuscaloosa.
"There's a lot of people that need help," he said. "We're struggling already from the economy being so bad."
One of the twisters destroyed a Wrangler jeans distribution center that employed 150 people in Hackleburg, an Alabama town of about 1,500. The town is in a county with an unemployment rate of nearly 13 percent.
"That one industry is the town," said Seth Hammett, director of the Alabama Development Office. "Until they get back up and going again, that town will not be the same."
VF Corp., Wrangler's parent company, said it is looking into setting up distribution operations in another location nearby to allow people to get back to work quickly, and employees will continue getting pay and benefits in the meantime. Eric Wiseman, chairman and CEO, said VF is also establishing a help center where workers can get food, water, gift cards and other critical supplies.
A Toyota engine plant in Huntsville with 800 employees lost power and was knocked out of commission when a twister damaged electrical transmission lines. Toyota said Tuesday it is not clear when electricity will be restored.
In Smithville, Miss., the storms heavily damaged three facilities owned by Townhouse Home Furnishings, which makes sofas and other furniture, said CFO Tony Watson. With 150 employees, the company was the town's biggest employer, Alderman Jimmy Dabbs said.
The company will relocate its Smithville operations to a publicly owned building in Mantachie, about a 30 minute drive from Smithville. About 25 Smithville employees are already back to work at other plants in nearby towns.
"We're trying to keep our people working so they can get a paycheck. It could be six months or a year before we reopen in Smithville and they have to keep up with orders or we'll lose out accounts," Watson said.
Georgia put insured property losses at $75 million or more, while Dan Batey of Farm Bureau Insurance of Tennessee said his company expects to pay out somewhere around $100 million in claims. Officials in Mississippi and Tennessee had no immediate estimates.
In the Pleasant Grove section of Birmingham, Katrina Mathus has not returned to work since a tornado blew out her windows, knocked out her electricity and exposed insulation she said is causing her asthmatic daughter to wheeze.
The 35-year-old single mother of three daughters said she is having trouble sleeping.
"Every time I close my eyes I see trees, people walking and crying, debris everywhere," Mathus said.
People thrown out of work by the storms will qualify for unemployment benefits as well as federal disaster aid.
It's tough to predict how long it will take for the stricken areas to recover, but the rebuilding projects could at least soften the economic blow.
"The rebuilding is huge," said Sam Addy, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama. "That brings in a lot of jobs and cash flow into the local area. For the larger economy, it's a loss."
In Birmingham, Rapley and his wife, Adrienne, survived the twister by taking cover in a storage room next to his garage. He carried her in - she suffers from a brain injury - and then they prayed: "The Lord is my shepherd." The deed to his property is gone, whisked away by the tornadoes. The house they shared for 20 years is destroyed.
For now, they are staying at a hotel, hoping to get federal aid soon.
"It's very expensive," Rapley said. "We're spending our last dime right now."
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