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Obama declares state of emergency over storms

US president Barack Obama has declared an emergency after a wave of tornado-spawning storms tore through the South, splintering buildings and killing more than 70 people in four states.

The storms have swept across Alabama, killing at least 58 people.

In a statement released today Mr Obama said he had spoken to Alabama governor Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency assistance, including search and rescue teams.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama offered condolences to families affected by the storms and commended “the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster”.

The White House declaration authorises the Federal Emergency Management Agency to co-ordinate disaster relief efforts in Alabama.

More than 70 people in four states have been killed by the storms, including at least 15 in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama.

The mayor said sections of the city had been destroyed and the infrastructure devastated.

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 neighbouring buildings in the city of more than 83,000 also reduced to rubble. A hospital there said its casualty unit 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 said, adding that he expected the death toll to rise.

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