At least 54 killed as tornadoes strike southern US

( dpa )- Dozens of tornadoes touched down throughout the southern United States late Tuesday and early Wednesday, killing at least 54 people and injuring dozens more on the largest election day to date in the 2008 presidential race, according to media reports Wednesday. The 67 twisters forced early closure of election stations Tuesday night across some of the worst hit states - Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi - and ploughed down powerlines . The collision of warm and cold weather fronts - unusual for the winter time - was blamed for the havoc. Tennessee had the largest death toll of 30, broadcast reports said. Rescue officials were assessing the full extent of the damage on Wednesday morning. For the third time since 2001, the private Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, was hard hit, trapping 13 students for five hours and seriously injuring nine of them. David Docker , university president, surveyed the damage as he talked to reporters in broadcast footage, saying: "To see what happened on this campus with no loss of life is amazing." In a statement posted on its website, the university said that the tornado had destroyed 40 per cent of the student dormitories and delivered added damage to another 40 per cent of the living quarters. The damage exceeded that of the 2002 storm by 15-fold. In Arkansas, a boat factory completely collapsed "with people in it," said Governor Mike Beebe in a telephone interview with MSNBC. He said in addition to emergency services, the national guard and forestry people were working to find missing people and clear damage. "Local people are just helping their friends and neighbours and it's amazing to see the rebuilding start less than 24 hours afterwards," Beebe said. The tornadoes that struck across Arkansas caused at least seven deaths, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. A spokesman for the state's governor said rescue teams worked through the night to discover survivors. At least three people were killed in a mobile home park in Kentucky, the National Weather Service reported, while heavy damage was also reported in northern Mississippi as strong winds turned over trucks on highways and destroyed buildings. The storms came amidst the political frenzy of the largest presidential party primary vote in US history, where voters in 24 states were picking their favoured nominee. Both Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama offered their condolences to the victims of Tuesday's disaster during rallies in their home states of New York and Illinois on the night.

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