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Storms leave at least 72 dead in 4 states

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A wave of tornado-spawning storms strafed the South Wednesday, splintering buildings across hard-hit Alabama and killing 72 people in four states.

At least 58 people died in Alabama alone, including 15 or more when a massive tornado devastated Tuscaloosa. The city's mayor said sections of the city that's home to the University of Alabama have been destroyed and the city's infrastructure is devastated.

President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in Alabama. In a statement released last night, Obama said he had spoken with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets.

Eleven deaths were reported in Mississippi, two in Georgia and one in Tennessee.

News footage showed paramedics lifting a child out of a flattened Tuscaloosa home, with many neighboring buildings in the city of more than 83,000 also reduced to rubble. A hospital there said its emergency room had admitted at least 100 people.

"What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time," Mayor Walter Maddox told reporters, adding that he expected his city's death toll to rise.

The storm system spread destruction Tuesday night and Wednesday from Texas to Georgia, and it was forecast to hit the Carolinas next and then move farther northeast.

Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled last 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 it was using its student recreation center as a shelter.

Maddox said authorities were having trouble communicating, and 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed around the state.

Brian Sanders, the manager of an oil change shop, brought his daughters to DCH Regional Medical Center because he felt they'd be safe there. He said his business had been leveled.

"I can't believe we walked away," he said.

Storms struck Birmingham earlier in the day, felling numerous trees that impeded emergency responders and those trying to leave hard-hit areas. Surrounding Jefferson County reported 11 deaths by late yesterday; another hard-hit area was Walker County with eight deaths. The rest of the deaths were scattered around the state, emergency officials said.

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