Vice President Takes Stock of Damage From Tornado

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

A volunteer firefighter stood stoically as Vice President Al Gore lamented the destruction of a tornado and related storms that killed 40 people in four Southern states.

But as Gore’s wife, Tipper, extended a hand and a pat on the arm, tears welled in the eyes of Richie Miller, whose home was blown away, and he couldn’t say a word.

Later, he said: “There’s just nothing left.”

Most of the 33 people killed Wednesday in Alabama were in Jefferson County, around Birmingham. Five people were killed in Georgia and one each in Mississippi and North Carolina, where a Marine was hit by lightning.


Gore, accompanied by congressmen, senators, federal and state officials, toured the devastation by helicopter Friday. He called the damage from the tornado--classified as an F-5, the highest category--the worst he has seen.

The F-5 tornado is capable of lifting frame houses off their foundations, carrying cars more than 100 yards through the air and tearing chunks of asphalt off roads and grass off lawns, according to the National Weather Service.

As a comparison, the 175-mph winds of Hurricane Andrew, which caused about $25 billion in damage in south Florida in August 1992, would have ranked as an F-3 on the Fujita scale.

Brian Peters of the weather service said the damage, which was widely assumed to have been caused by one monster twister packing winds as high as 300 mph, was really caused by three tornadoes.


He said one hit Tuscaloosa County west of Birmingham, another killed 31 people in Jefferson County and the third killed two in St. Clair County, to the east. The tornadoes injured more than 160 people in Alabama.

Peters said the Jefferson County twister, which witnesses described as a huge, boiling cloud, left a path of destruction almost 31 miles long and as much as half a mile wide.

Emergency management officials said Friday that 1,117 homes were destroyed in Jefferson County alone. Elsewhere in the state, officials said the total number of damaged homes is still guesswork.

Victims are eligible to receive aid, including temporary housing, low-interest loans and counseling from victim assistance workers with the Justice Department.


In Edgewater, Ala., a Birmingham suburb that was among the hardest-hit areas, residents wondered whether to rebuild or start over elsewhere.

“I’ve got to take a few days to clear my head,” said Larry Brascome as he tiptoed through the wreckage in his daughter’s bedroom--one of two rooms in his house left without a roof. “But we’ll probably move somewhere else.”

In Georgia, three people died in a fire in Hall County during the storm, but authorities could not say whether the fire was related to the weather. Also in the storm’s aftermath Thursday, 7-year-old Shonda M. Thompson drowned after slipping into a storm-swollen drainage ditch in Fitzgerald.

Georgia’s damage was estimated at $30 million.