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Alabama governor pledges swift storm cleanup

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Sheen raising money for tornado victims
  • NEW: "We must now enter the recovery process," Gov. Robert Bentley says
  • NEW: Bentley says the state will pay local governments' debris-removal costs for 30 days
  • About 150,000 Alabama customers are without power
  • The state's poultry producers say they have lost 2 million birds

(CNN) -- Alabama's governor pledged to take quick action to clean up and rebuild his tornado-ravaged state in a speech to lawmakers Tuesday.

The state will pay local communities' debris removal costs for 30 days "to make sure there is no delay in getting this recovery and rebuilding process moving quickly," Gov. Robert Bentley announced, eliciting applause from legislators.

"We have spent much of the last six days in a rescue stage," Bentley said. "And as much as we pray for additional survivors, we must now enter the recovery process."

Bentley spoke less than a week after an epic outbreak of violent weather killed hundreds as it ripped across the South.

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The National Weather Service has confirmed that more than 20 large tornadoes touched down in Alabama alone, leaving behind "utter devastation in towns large and small," Bentley said.

Officials there are still tallying the dead, clearing roads, trying to restore power and finding temporary homes for those displaced by the storms.

Bentley said 38 counties in the state have been declared disaster areas by the federal government..

The state emergency management agency's latest death toll from the storms, released Saturday, was 250. The agency reported 2,219 injuries. The total number of people killed in five other states -- Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia -- during Wednesday's storms was at least 89.

Alabama officials have said they would not release further death toll and injury reports until all the missing can be accounted for and final totals of the dead and injured can be confirmed.

"Our state has never seen a natural disaster of this magnitude," Bentley said.

In Hackleburg, where authorities said a tornado tore through at 200 mph, the "entire town is leveled," Bentley said.

"Many lives were lost, and the community's largest employer is gone," he said.

On the opposite side of the state, in the town of Ider, Alabama, the situation is "much the same," Bentley said.

"Not only did families there lose their homes, they lost chicken houses. Now, what that means is, they don't have any way to provide for their families. The story repeats itself in town after town," he said.

Alabama poultry producers claim to have lost more than 2 million birds because of the storms, according to emergency management officials.

Meanwhile, about 150,000 customers in the state remained without power Tuesday, emergency management officials said, and it could take another week to restore power in some areas.

More than 400 displaced people were in 18 shelters. However, emergency responders say the actual number of people left homeless by the storms is much higher, because that total does not reflect the number of people taken in by family and friends.

"The road to recovery will be long and it will be hard. But I will share that road with you as it leads to a greater and a stronger Alabama," Bentley said.