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312 tornadoes set US single-day record

Storm rampage was deadliest since 1925

Workers replaced a destroyed utility pole yesterday in Holt, Ala., one of the hardest hit of seven states last week by a spree of tornadoes that flattened homes and killed 342 people. Workers replaced a destroyed utility pole yesterday in Holt, Ala., one of the hardest hit of seven states last week by a spree of tornadoes that flattened homes and killed 342 people. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Associarted Press / May 3, 2011

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WASHINGTON — There were more tornadoes in a single day last week than any other day in history, according to preliminary government estimates released yesterday.

There were 362 tornadoes during last week’s outbreak, including a record-setting 312 in one 24-hour period. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the largest previous number on record in one event occurred from April 3-4, 1974, with 148 tornadoes.

NOAA said 340 people were killed from 8 a.m. Wednesday to 8 a.m. Thursday. It was the deadliest single day for tornadoes since the March 18, 1925, tornado outbreak that had 747 fatalities across seven states.

Federal disaster relief offices are helping people apply for aid, and shelters are providing free haircuts and eye clinics as part of the massive relief effort that was in full swing yesterday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency set up offices in Alabama and expects to open one soon in Mississippi. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano toured parts of both states a day earlier and pledged support.

“This is not going to be a quick comeback or an immediate [recovery] but it will be, in my view, a complete one,’’ she said in shattered Smithville, Miss., where little was left standing.

Last week’s storms flattened homes and killed 342 across seven states. Thousands were injured, though several days later most tornado-related injuries had been tended to. Yesterday, workers at a shelter in Tuscaloosa were sorting prescription drugs for those who lost medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and other conditions.

“They’re on chronic medications, and their prescriptions are gone,’’ said Dr. Beth Western, who volunteered yesterday at a shelter in Tuscaloosa. “They need something to get them through until they can go see their physician.’’

Amy Hall, 23, limped through the shelter with a broken foot, cradling her 2-year-old son. The toddler broke his nose and bruised a lung when their home was lifted off its foundation and tossed a block away. He spent two days in the hospital, and Hall said the family was getting excellent care at the shelter.

Over the weekend in the town of Phil Campbell in northwestern Alabama, volunteers in golf carts zipped down streets with coolers of water and boxes of sausage biscuits. At noon, volunteers were grilling hot dogs to feed as many people as they could in three parts of the town of about 1,100.

Elsewhere, church groups and congregations have been central to the relief effort.

In most small towns around here, churches serve as community centers, town halls, and gymnasiums. Besides Sunday services, they host Boy Scout troop meetings, neighborhood voting, bake sales, basketball games, and Wednesday night prayer meetings.

Some churches were wiped out. Some left standing are headquarters for rebuilding.

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