Vicious Storm Hits Neighborhood In Birmingham, Ala.

Rescue crews are searching through a neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala., looking for survivors from a powerful storm. Mayor William Bell tells Steve Inskeep that houses, churches and businesses are "just gone."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, the mayor of Birmingham is William Bell, and he's on the line. Mayor, welcome.

Mr. WILLIAM BELL (Mayor, Birmingham, Alabama): Well, thank you.

INSKEEP: Where have you been going this morning and what have you been seeing?

Mr. BELL: We're in the Pratt City area, which is a community within the city of Birmingham that has been totally devastated. There are several other surrounding neighborhoods that have also been heavily damaged. We're fearful that we have a number of lives lost in the area and we have continued overnight with our search and rescue efforts.

INSKEEP: Will you draw me a picture, Mayor Bell - when you say it's been devastated, we're talking about whole rows of buildings destroyed?

Mr. BELL: You're talking about whole neighborhoods of housing just completely gone - churches gone, businesses gone. I'm not talking about just roofs being blown off, but just completely gone. And it's hard to imagine a heavily populated area that now seems like a bomb has been dropped on it. And just -the buildings - where buildings once stood, toothpick-sized wood shreds are there now.

INSKEEP: Where have the survivors spent the night?

Mr. BELL: Well, we opened up our municipal auditorium as a temporary shelter and we'll keep that open as long as necessary. I've been in conversation with the governor, who will provide additional help for this area. He's also going to provide National Guardsmen to help with the search and rescue, as well as security efforts. It's my understanding that the president has declared this a disaster area, so we're looking for some federal help as well. We've been talking with the local ministers about opening up their churches and assisting us in getting clothing and supplies to families who now have nothing - and that's going to be a tremendous task over the next several weeks, if not several months.

INSKEEP: As someone who has lived in Birmingham for decades, have you ever seen a disaster like this affect your city?

Mr. BELL: Not this large. We've had tornados strike neighborhoods. The last major tornado struck back in 1998 - April of 1998. And we thought that that was large and devastating, but this has doubled, if not tripled, that.

INSKEEP: And in just a few seconds, mayor, if people are wondering how they can help, what do you need?

Mr. BELL: Well, we need clothing, we need water more so than anything else. And if anyone can get clothing down to the Boutwell Auditorium, which is in our downtown area, that would be a tremendous help. Children's clothing, adult clothing, any water that you can make available - we need lots of water.

INSKEEP: Mayor Bell, thanks very much.

Mr. BELL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: William Bell is the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

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