BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The tornado that obliterated contractor Robert Rapley's house also swept away his livelihood, destroying his saws, his paint sprayer and his truck. Like thousands of others in a region already struggling with high unemployment, he now faces the prospect of trying to recover with no way to earn a living.
"We lost everything," Rapley said as he climbed on the wreckage. "I can't even go to work."
Thousands were thrown out of work by the twisters last week that killed 328 people across seven states in the nation's deadliest tornado outbreak since the Depression. The death toll had been listed as 342, but officials said some deaths had been counted twice.
The tornadoes destroyed hundreds of factories and other businesses, and many others were left without electricity.
The financial and economic toll is still being tallied, but officials in hardest-hit Alabama — which had more than two-thirds of the dead — said the damage there alone could rival the $1 billion in insured losses the state suffered in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"It's going to be extremely high," said Seth Hammett, director of the Alabama Development Office.
Many people were struggling to make ends meet even before the twisters flattened neighborhoods in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, where unemployment in March ranged from 9.2 percent in Alabama to 10.2 percent in Mississippi.
Curtis Frederick, 28, couldn't find any work to provide for his three children aside from delivering newspapers. Then a twister wiped out his mobile home park in Tuscaloosa.
"There's a lot of people that need help," he said. "We're struggling already from the economy being so bad."
In Smithville, Miss., four facilities owned by Townhouse Home Furnishings, which makes sofas and other furniture and was the town's biggest employer, were destroyed by a tornado, Alderman Jimmy Dabbs said. About 130 people were employed there. Dabbs said Townhouse is shifting operations and employees to nearby towns.
Georgia put insured property losses at $75 million or more, while Dan Batey of Farm Bureau Insurance of Tennessee said his company expects to pay out somewhere around $100 million in claims. Officials in Mississippi and Tennessee had no immediate estimates.