Dozens of tornadoes kill 194 in 5 Southern states

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Dozens of tornadoes kill 194 in 5 Southern states

Post by ToddS on Thu Apr 28, 2011 9:11 am

Dozens of tornadoes kill 194 in 5 Southern states

By GREG BLUESTEIN and JAY REEVES, Associated Press Greg Bluestein And Jay Reeves, Associated Press – 15 mins ago

PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. – Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out entire towns across a wide swath of the South, killing at least 194 people, and officials said Thursday they expect the death toll to rise.

Alabama's state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 128 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 15 in Tennessee, 11 in Georgia and eight in Virginia.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.

"We were in the bathroom holding on to each other and holding on to dear life," said Samantha Nail, who lives in a blue-collar subdivision in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove where the storm slammed heavy pickup trucks into ditches and obliterated tidy brick houses, leaving behind a mess of mattresses, electronics and children's toys scattered across a grassy plain where dozens used to live. "If it wasn't for our concrete walls, our home would be gone like the rest of them."

One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama. The city's police and other emergency services were devastated, the mayor said, and at least 15 people were killed.

A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barreled through the city late Wednesday afternoon, leveling it.

By nightfall, the city was dark. Roads were impassable. Signs were blown down in front of restaurants, businesses were unrecognizable and sirens wailed off and on. Debris littered the streets and sidewalks.

College students in a commercial district near campus used flashlights to check out the damage.

At Stephanie's Flowers, owner Bronson Englebert used the headlights from two delivery vans to see what valuables he could remove. The storm blew out the front of his store, pulled down the ceiling and shattered the windows, leaving only the curtains flapping in the breeze.

"It even blew out the back wall, and I've got bricks on top of two delivery vans now," Englebert said.

A group of students stopped to help Englebert, carrying out items like computers and printers and putting them in his van.

The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out.

The governors in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.

President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance, including search and rescue assets. About 1,400 National Guard soldiers were being deployed around the state.

"Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster," Obama said in a statement.

Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled by downed trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in medians.

"What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time," Mayor Walter Maddox said.

University officials said there didn't appear to be significant damage on campus, and dozens of students and locals were staying at a 125-bed shelter in the campus recreation center.

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant about 30 miles west of Huntsville lost offsite power. The Tennessee Valley Authority-owned plant had to use seven diesel generators to power the plant's three units. The safety systems operated as needed and the emergency event was classified as the lowest of four levels, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

In Huntsville, meteorologists found themselves in the path of severe storms and had to take shelter in a reinforced steel room, turning over monitoring duties to a sister office in Jackson, Miss. Meteorologists saw multiple wall clouds, which sometimes spawn tornadoes, and decided to take cover, but the building wasn't damaged.

"We have to take shelter just like the rest of the people," said meteorologist Chelly Amin, who wasn't at the office at the time but spoke with colleagues about the situation.

In Kemper County, Miss., in the east-central part of the state, sisters Florrie Green and Maxine McDonald, and their sister-in-law Johnnie Green, all died in a mobile home that was destroyed by a storm.

"They were thrown into those pines over there," Mary Green, Johnnie Green's daughter-in-law, said, pointing to a wooded area. "They had to go look for their bodies."

In Choctaw County, Miss., a Louisiana police officer was killed Wednesday morning when a towering sweetgum tree fell onto his tent as he shielded his young daughter with his body, said Kim Korthuis, a supervisory ranger with the National Park Service. The girl wasn't hurt.

The 9-year-old girl was brought to a motor home about 100 feet away where campsite volunteer Greg Maier was staying with his wife. He went back to check on the father and found him dead.

In a neighborhood south of Birmingham, Austin Ransdell and a friend had to hike out after the house where he was living was crushed by four trees. No one was hurt.

As he walked away from the wreckage, trees and power lines crisscrossed residential streets, and police cars and utility trucks blocked a main highway.

"The house was destroyed. We couldn't stay in it. Water pipes broke; it was flooding the basement," he said. "We had people coming in telling us another storm was coming in about four or five hours, so we just packed up."

Not far away, Craig Branch was stunned by the damage.

"Every street to get into our general subdivision was blocked off," he said. "Power lines are down; trees are all over the road. I've never seen anything like that before."

The storms came on the heels of another system that killed 10 people in Arkansas and one in Mississippi earlier this week.

___

Reeves reported from Tuscaloosa. Associated Press Writers Holbrook Mohr in Choctaw County, Miss.; Anna McFall and John Zenor in Montgomery; Bill Fuller and Alan Sayre in New Orleans; Dorie Turner in Atlanta and Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn., contributed to this report.


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Re: Dozens of tornadoes kill 194 in 5 Southern states

Post by Shirley on Thu Apr 28, 2011 1:12 pm

BROWNS FERRY NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMERGENCY SHUTDOWN

TVA loses all power transmission lines in Alabama and Mississippi, Browns Ferry Nuclear plant forced into emergency shutdown

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Wednesday’s storms took out all of TVA’s electric power transmission lines in Mississippi and North Alabama, and forced Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant onto diesel backup power and into emergency and automatic cold shutdown.

Bill McCollum, the chief operating officer of Tennessee Valley Authority, said it may be weeks before power can be restored to all of the 300,000 customers whose power is supplied by the federal utility.

“With the level of damage we have, it will be — we hope it will be days until we get most of the customers back on, but it will be weeks before we’ve fully repaired all of the damage,” he said.

McCollum said the reactors, now being cooled by backup diesel power, are safe. He also said the spent fuel pools also are being cooled by backup diesel power and are safe.

The transmission lines are the monster power lines that carry electricity from TVA power plants to power distributors such as EPB and Huntsville Utilities.

Now those utilities, along with a number of large industries that are wired directly to TVA transmission lines, will not have power until the lines are repaired, McCollum said.

The loss of those transmission lines also caused Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant to lose power.

When the plant generates power, it uses some of that power and the excess is sent out on the transmission lines. When those transmission lines can’t take power, it causes the reactors to trip, according to TVA officials.

The spent fuel is not as well protected as the fuel in the reactor. In Japan, the spent fuel is now open to the atmosphere in at least two plants. The danger posed by the pools is significant. A U.S. study showed that a drained spent-fuel pool delivers a lethal dose of radiation to a worker at its railing in 16 seconds.

Fuel rods in the pool are thermally hot and radioactive. They rely on water and circulation pumps to avoid reaching temperatures that melt the metal cladding around the fuel rods, a condition that releases radiation.

Browns Ferry is more vulnerable to problems with the spent-fuel pools than are the plants in Japan. Delays in constructing a storage facility for depleted fuel — planned at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — resulted in Browns Ferry and other plants stockpiling the fuel in the cooling pools.

TVA is gradually moving the spent fuel to on-site dry casks, but the pools remain near capacity. A capacity that was increased by request of the nuclear industry resulting in closer spacing of spent rods than was originally designed into the system.

That means they have more radioactive content than the pools at the Japan reactors, and they are more dependent upon electric pumps to circulate water within the cramped quarters.

“Our spent fuel pools in the reactors like the one in Japan are almost filled to the brim, and the risk from the spent fuel pools — either from an accident or from an act of malice — are about as high as you could possibly make them,” said Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which describes itself as a watchdog group that neither supports nor opposes nuclear power.

Another issue that some experts fear will come into play in Japan involves the consequences of melting fuel rods within the reactor.
Fuel Rods

If cooling efforts fail, the fuel rods ultimately will melt into a lava-like substance. The heat would melt the steel reactor vessel, allowing the melted fuel to drop to the concrete containment vessel. In Mark I reactors, the containment vessel is concrete with steel at the edges.

“In the Mark I containment, there is a known vulnerability to containment failure known as liner melt-through,” said Ed Lyman, a physicist at Union of Concerned Scientists. “If that melt spreads to the corners, then it may be able to melt through the steel shell of the containment as it ate through the reactor vessel.”

If it happens, especially if the containment vessels are damaged as they are in Japan, “that would essentially mean large radiological release to the environment.”

McCollum said he is confident the authority’s reactors are safe, but TVA will seek to learn from the problems in Japan.

“TVA’s plants are designed, built and operated to be safe,” McCollum said. “That’s our No. 1 mission. Our plants are designed to be very robust against all types of occurrences.

“It’s far too early to assess the total impact of this,” McCollum said. “I believe we’ll have to wait to understand the facts and events as they’ve really occurred, and what actions may need to be taken and lessons to be learned out of this.”


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Re: Dozens of tornadoes kill 194 in 5 Southern states

Post by American Beauty on Thu Apr 28, 2011 6:49 pm

Tornadoes devastate South, killing at least 280

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A tornado has flattened Pleasant Grove, Ala., a subdivision of Mountain Grove, Thursday, April 28. 2011

By GREG BLUESTEIN and HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Greg Bluestein And Holbrook Mohr, Associated Press – 40 mins ago

PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. – Firefighters searched one splintered pile after another for survivors Thursday, combing the remains of houses and neighborhoods pulverized by the nation's deadliest tornado outbreak in almost four decades. At least 280 people were killed across six states — more than two-thirds of them in Alabama, where large cities bore the half-mile-wide scars the twisters left behind.

The death toll from Wednesday's storms seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.

"These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen," said meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

"If you experienced a direct hit from one of these, you'd have to be in a reinforced room, storm shelter or underground" to survive, Carbin said.

The storms seemed to hug the interstate highways as they barreled along like runaway trucks, obliterating neighborhoods or even entire towns from Tuscaloosa to Bristol, Va. One family rode out the disaster in the basement of a funeral home, another by huddling in a tanning bed.

In Concord, a small town outside Birmingham that was ravaged by a tornado, Randy Guyton's family got a phone call from a friend warning them to take cover. They rushed to the basement garage, piled into a Honda Ridgeline and listened to the roar as the twister devoured the house in seconds. Afterward, they saw daylight through the shards of their home and scrambled out.

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"The whole house caved in on top of that car," he said. "Other than my boy screaming to the Lord to save us, being in that car is what saved us."

Son Justin remembers the dingy white cloud moving quickly toward the house.

"To me it sounded like destruction," the 22-year-old said. "It was a mean, mean roar. It was awful."

At least three people died in a Pleasant Grove subdivision southwest of Birmingham, where residents trickled back Thursday to survey the damage. Greg Harrison's neighborhood was somehow unscathed, but he remains haunted by the wind, thunder and lightning as they built to a crescendo, then suddenly stopped.

"Sick is what I feel," he said. "This is what you see in Oklahoma and Kansas. Not here. Not in the South."

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said his state had confirmed 194 deaths. There were 33 deaths in Mississippi, 33 in Tennessee, 14 in Georgia, five in Virginia and one in Kentucky. Hundreds if not thousands of people were injured — 600 in Tuscaloosa alone.

Some of the worst damage was about 50 miles southwest of Pleasant Grove in Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 that is home to the University of Alabama. A tower-mounted news camera there captured images of an astonishingly thick, powerful tornado flinging debris as it leveled neighborhoods.

That twister and others Wednesday were several times more severe than a typical tornado, which is hundreds of yards wide, has winds around 100 mph and stays on the ground for a few miles, said research meteorologist Harold Brooks at the Storm Prediction Center.

"There's a pretty good chance some of these were a mile wide, on the ground for tens of miles and had wind speeds over 200 mph," he said.

The loss of life is the greatest from an outbreak of U.S. tornadoes since April 1974, when 329 people were killed by a storm that swept across 13 Southern and Midwestern states.

Brooks said the tornado that struck Tuscaloosa could be an EF5 — the strongest category of tornado, with winds of more than 200 mph — and was at least the second-highest category, an EF4.

Search and rescue teams fanned out to dig through the rubble of devastated communities that bore eerie similarities to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when town after town lay flattened for nearly 90 miles.

President Barack Obama said he would travel to Alabama on Friday to view storm damage and meet Gov. Robert Bentley and affected families. As many as a million homes and businesses there were without power, and Bentley said 2,000 National Guard troops had been activated to help. The governors of Mississippi and Georgia also issued emergency declarations for parts of their states.

"We can't control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it," Obama said. "And I want every American who has been affected by this disaster to know that the federal government will do everything we can to help you recover and we will stand with you as you rebuild."

The storm prediction center said it received 164 tornado reports around the region, but some tornadoes were probably reported multiple times and it could take days to get a final count.

In fact, Brooks said 50 to 60 reports — from the Mississippi-Alabama line, through Tuscaloosa and Birmingham and into Georgia and southwestern Tennessee — might end up being a single tornado. If that's true its path would be one of the longest on record for a twister, rivaling a 1925 tornado that raged for 219 miles.

Brooks said the weather service was able to provide about 24 minutes' notice before the twisters hit.

"It was a well-forecasted event," Brooks said. "People were talking about this week being a big week a week ago."

Gov. Bentley said forecasters did a good job alerting people, but there's only so much they can do to help people prepare.

Carbin, the meteorologist, noted that the warning gave residents enough time to hunker down, but not enough for them to safely leave the area.

"You've got half an hour to evacuate the north side of Tuscaloosa. How do you do that and when do you do that? Knowing there's a tornado on the ground right now and the conditions in advance of it, you may inadvertently put people in harm's way," he said.

Officials said at least 13 died in Smithville, Miss., where devastating winds ripped open the police station, post office, city hall and an industrial park with several furniture factories. Pieces of tin were twined high around the legs of a blue water tower, and the Piggly Wiggly grocery store was gutted.

"It's like the town is just gone," said 24-year-old Jessica Monaghan, wiping away tears as she toted 9-month-old son Slade Scott. The baby's father, Tupelo firefighter Tyler Scott, was at work when the warning came on the TV.

"It said be ready in 10 minutes, but about that time, it was there," Monaghan said. She, Slade and the family's cat survived by hiding in a closet.

At Smithville Cemetery, even the dead were not spared: Tombstones dating to the 1800s, including some of Civil War soldiers, lay broken on the ground. Brothers Kenny and Paul Long dragged their youngest brother's headstone back to its proper place.

Unlike many neighboring towns, Kenny Long said, Smithville had no storm shelter.

"You have warnings," Long said, "but where do you go?"

Some fled to the sturdy center section of Smithville Baptist Church. Pastor Wes White said they clung to each other and anything they could reach, a single "mass of humanity" as the building disintegrated around them.

The second story is gone, the walls collapsed, but no one there was seriously hurt. The choir robes remained in place, perfectly white.

Seven people were killed in Georgia's Catoosa County, including Ringgold, where a suspected tornado flattened about a dozen buildings and trapped an unknown number of people.

"It happened so fast I couldn't think at all," said Tom Rose, an Illinois truck driver whose vehicle was blown off the road at I-75 North in Ringgold, near the Tennessee line.

Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said several residential areas had "nothing but foundations left," and that some people reported missing had yet to be found.

In Trenton, Ga., nearly two dozen people took shelter in an Ace Hardware store, including a couple walking by when an employee emerged and told them to take cover immediately.

Lisa Rice, owner of S&L Tans in Trenton, survived by climbing into a tanning bed with her two daughters. Stormy, 19, and Sky, 21.

"We got in it and closed it on top of us," Rice said. "Sky said, `We're going to die.' But, I said, `No, just pray. Just pray, just pray, just pray.'"

For 30 seconds, wind rushed around the bed and debris flew as wind tore off the roof.

"Then it just stopped. It got real quiet. We waited a few minutes and then opened up the bed and we saw daylight," she said.

The badly damaged Moore Funeral Home, meanwhile, sheltered the woman who cleans Larry Moore's family business. When the first of three storms hit and uprooted trees in her yard, she figured the funeral home would be a safer place for her two children. As shingles began sailing past the window, she headed for the basement.

"That's what saved her, I guess," Moore said. "It was over in just a matter of seconds. She called 911 and emergency crews had to help her get out."

The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out.

It was unclear how high the death toll could rise. In Mississippi, Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson and a crew of deputies and inmates searched the rubble, recovering five bodies and marking homes that still had bodies inside with two large orange Xs.

"I've never seen anything like this," Johnson said. "This is something that no one can prepare for."

Mohr reported from Smithville, Miss. Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Tuscaloosa; Phillip Rawls in Montgomery; Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va.; Kristi Easton in Oklahoma City; Ray Henry in Ringgold, Ga.; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; Michelle Williams in Atlanta; and Bill Poovey in Chattanooga, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Volunteers tend to victims in storm-ravaged South

Post by ToddS on Sat Apr 30, 2011 7:06 pm

Volunteers tend to victims in storm-ravaged South

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AP – Tuscaloosa residents gather in a parking lot where food, water, and supplies are being distributed to …

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press Michael Kunzelman And Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press – 2 hrs 1 min ago

PRATT CITY, Ala. – Whether it's refilling blood-pressure medicine or patrolling neighborhoods in a grocery-filled pickup truck, tornado victims in splintered Southern towns say volunteers are ensuring they're well-fed and warm at night. At least a few, though, say they need more from the government: Help getting into their homes and cleaning up endless debris.

Across the twister-ravaged South, students and church groups aggressively tended to those who needed it most, clearing away wreckage and handing out food and water. Wednesday's tornadoes marked the second-deadliest day of twisters in U.S. history, leaving 341 people dead across seven states — including 249 in Alabama. Thousands were hurt, and hundreds of homes and businesses have vanished into rubble.

Federal Emergency Management Agency workers handed out information to people in shelters about how to apply for help. National Guard soldiers stood watch, searched for survivors and helped sift through debris. Churches transformed into buzzing community hubs.

In Tuscaloosa, a Red Cross shelter was handing out clothes and providing counseling for folks like Carol Peck, 55, and her 77-year-old mother. She said the shelter's First Aid station even refilled her blood pressure pills without her having to ask.

She can't explain how it happened, but she suspects her clinic contacted the shelter.

"Evidently, because I sure didn't call," she said. "They knew I was here. I don't know how, but they found me."

In Ringgold, Ga., Poplar Springs Baptist Church had been transformed into an informal help center. Crews were dispatched from the church, some with chain saws to chop through the debris, others with bottled water and food. Inside the gymnasium, a barbecue buffet was feeding those without power.

"You've got elderly people out there who can't get out there and do it," said volunteer Kathleen Hensley, 40, of Ringgold. "They need a hand."

The University of Alabama's athletic department was pitching in around hard-hit Tuscaloosa, with more than 50 athletic training students giving Gatorade, bottled water and protein bars to residents.

"Anything they have to give athletes, they're giving away," said Jenny Sanders, one of the volunteers.

And most were grateful to get whatever they could.

Niki Eberhart, whose home in the Alberta City neighborhood of Tuscaloosa was shredded by the tornado, said Saturday that her husband and two children are getting everything they need at the shelter. And it isn't the first time they've counted on the Red Cross. When their home in Meridian, Miss., burned down last year in an electrical fire, Eberhart said the Red Cross responded within an hour.

"We feel like we've been blessed," she said. "Both times it could have been much worse. We lost things. Material possessions can be replaced."

Eberhart and her husband, Shane, also had already gotten help from FEMA workers at the shelter. And while they wait for a response from the feds, Eberhart dismissed relatives' offers of sympathy.

"I told them we're having great luck because it could have been so much worse," she said. "If you don't have any bad times, how are you going to appreciate the good times?"

As some tried to clear the rubble and sort through belongings, others took on the task of burying the dozens who died. Several funerals were being held in Rainsville in northeastern Alabama, including services for 70-year-old Hubert Whooten, his 70-year-old wife, Juanita, and her mother, Lethel Izell, 86.

"They were just normal, hardworking country folk," family friend Kevin Black said outside the Rainsville Funeral Home. "If they seen you, they're gonna call you by your name and (ask), 'How're you doing?' That's how it is around here."

But planning funerals was a struggle for many as they dealt with destroyed homes.

"A few of the families I met, with they've lost everything," said Jason Wyatt, manager of Tuscaloosa memorial Chapel. "It's hard for me to hold my composure. They don't have clothing or anything."

Clarence Plump's wife was among those who died when the tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa. The 36-year-old steel worker said his wife would go out of her way to help anyone and was a loving person. He was rummaging through his family's possessions Saturday and found a few photos and little bicycles he put on a flatbed trailer hooked to his truck.

"Right now I'm just trying to straighten out my family and get back on track," he said.

Many residents still couldn't even get into the town of Cordova, Ala., where stern soldiers cordoned off the few roads that weren't left impassable by fallen trees. The school, one of the few buildings to survive the twister, was buzzing on Saturday. Students stuffed baskets full of lunches at the cafeteria while their parents sorted supplies across the hall.

Landmarks in the town northwest of Birmingham, had been obliterated.

"I knew it was bad. But pictures don't begin to describe it," said 19-year-old college student Rachel Mitchell as she drove through town. "This is really hard. This is where I grew up and now nothing is here that I remember."

Still, frustration reigned for some. Eugene Starks, 82, worked with a tow truck driver Saturday to salvage a blown-out car from what was left of his garage in Pratt City, a blue-collar suburb of Birmingham. He said he was grateful to have survived the storm — "I give God credit" — but he needed more help recovering belongings from his home.

"I'm trying to do what I can myself," he said. "I hope the government steps in, but I'm not holding my breath."

On the outskirts of Phil Campbell in northwestern Alabama, 44-year-old Nickey Hughes was left to protect the rubble of his mobile home in a family-size tent he was sharing with his three grandchildren. He hasn't been able to find a shelter or a vacant hotel, so he's staying in the tent to scare off would-be looters.

"I've got help. I've got food and water. But I have no place to go," Hughes said. "I'm living it a day at a time, and that is getting to me."

Gov. Robert Bentley had dispatched 2,000 National Guard troops around Alabama to help residents and keep the peace. Many blocked off roads or patrolled neighborhoods to keep away gawkers and looters. Others helped residents sift through their shattered homes.

Carletta Wooley, 27, was going through some of her belongings in Holt, a community just outside Tuscaloosa. A pile of her family's belongings stood at the foot of a tree — a mirror, some hats, a pillow, a stereo. One of the soldiers picked up a photograph and handed it to her — it was of her son, when he was a baby.

"I'm going to cry," she said. "Thank you."


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