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U.S. South hit hard by deadly tornadoes


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    Tuscaloosa tornado damage.

    - Steve Chiotakis / Marketplace

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    More Tuscaloosa tornado damage.

    - Steve Chiotakis / Marketplace

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    Terrible damage in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

    - Steve Chiotakis / Marketplace

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    And to those who said Dreamland BBQ was destroyed in Tuscaloosa -- proof to the contrary

    - Steve Chiotakis / Marketplace

Sign outside a Chipotle restaurant reads "Closed due to weather."

Kai Ryssdal: President Obama's going down to Alabama tomorrow to check out the tornado damage from last night for himself. Emergency federal aid's already on the way, he said today.

Marketplace's Steve Chiotakis was in Alabama visiting family when the storms hit. He's been out reporting for us today. Hey Steve.

Steve Chiotakis: Hey Kai.

Ryssdal: So give us some sense of what it was like on the ground today in Tuscaloosa, would you?

Chiotakis: It was like some macabre parade of people looking at all this destruction. So imagine this. If you had this mix of people sifting through what was left of their homes and then other people taking pictures of this stuff. And business owners trying to secure their stock are making sure their employees were safe. And then all the while -- this was really eerie -- you had the smell of gas in the air, and then the sound of chainsaws and all these police sirens going by. I would say it was a sensory overload really, just an awful scene.

Ryssdal: Is anybody yet talking about business damage, lost costs and insurance liabilities?

Chiotakis: Not yet. It's hard to say. I've heard estimates climbing into the billions of dollars. And from what I saw today, just from a few hours ago, I can honestly say that wouldn't be out of the question. But think about this, Kai. The scene of destruction in Tuscaloosa -- this place was pummeled, which killed at least a dozen people, maybe two dozen -- is mimicked in other towns across the state and across the South. You have at least 160+ people dead in Alabama, and all these towns across the state that have a similar scene. And then multiply that with Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia -- yeah, billions of dollars not out of the question I don't think.

Ryssdal: You got talked to some people. What'd they tell you?

Chiotakis: Yeah, I did talk to a couple of folks who were hard hit. One woman, Debra Burroughs, owns the H & W Drugs East. It's a store her father started way back in 1964 in Tuscaloosa. The building was completely leveled. Only the front windows and the doors were still in tact. As a matter of fact, the doors still had the glass in it. But the rest of the building completely leveled. And I asked her: Are you going to rebuild?

Debra Burroughs: Oh, I guess. Right now we were able to recover our prescription file computer and the backup tapes. So we'll be able to set up somewhere and at least get copies of people's prescriptions called in to other stores so that they can get their medicine.

She seems really hopeful that her business will survive, at least that was the sense that I got from her. I talked to another guy named John Robles, and he's the manager of the Chipotle Grill down the street, probably about four or five storefronts down. Windows were blown out, the roof of his place was damaged severely. He's hoping to sell some burritos, though, as soon as he can.

John Robles: Business is doing very, very well. It's been moving up and love to be open right now.

But this whole town is mostly closed for business, Kai, at least for the next few days.

Ryssdal: Our Marketplace Report Steve Chiotakis in his home state of Birmingham, Ala., today. Steve, thanks a lot.

Chiotakis: You bet, Kai.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

Sign outside a Chipotle restaurant reads "Closed due to weather."

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