2011 equals deadliest U.S. tornado year on record

CHICAGO Sat May 28, 2011 3:42pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The United States on Saturday equaled the record for deaths from tornadoes in a single year with 519 killed in 2011, and more than a month still to go in the tornado season, The National Weather Service said.

The confirmation on Saturday of seven more deaths from the Joplin, Missouri tornado brought the number of fatalities to the same number as 1953, the deadliest year since record keeping began.

Officials in Joplin said the death count there is almost certain to rise as more missing are confirmed dead, so the annual fatality record is expected to be broken.

Alabama, which was hit by a wave of tornadoes last month, has suffered the most in 2011 with 243 confirmed deaths. There have been 139 deaths in Missouri from the Joplin tornado last Sunday, followed by 33 deaths in Tennessee, 31 in Mississippi and 24 in North Carolina.

Plains states such as Oklahoma and Kansas in the so-called "Tornado Alley", and usually hard hit by twisters, suffered only 12 and 3 deaths respectively.

The bulk of the deaths were from the most powerful tornadoes. So far this year there have been four EF-5 tornadoes, the highest power and intensity rating, and they killed 228 people. Eleven EF-4 tornadoes killed 157 people.

The tornado season continues until at least the end of June. The NWS fatalities report is on: here

(Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Tim Gaynor)

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