RALEIGH, N.C. -- A day after a violent storm system swept across seven states, kicking up tornadoes and flattening much in its path, residents began the painful process of cleaning up and mourning those lost.
The toxic weather system -- characterized by strong, shifting winds low in the atmosphere -- spawned tornadoes in the seven states, from Oklahoma to Virginia, killing about 40 people since Thursday.
State officials in North Carolina, which caught the brunt of the violent weather, said Sunday that the death toll hit 22, making it the deadliest thunderstorm system to hit the state in more than two decades. More than 80 people were hospitalized, some with severe injuries, and hundreds of homes were damaged or completely destroyed.
The spring storm spun off 62 tornadoes in that state alone Saturday night, The Associated Press reported.
"This is one that will be seared in a lot of peoples' memories," said Scott Sharp, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh.
Half of the North Carolina fatalities were in Bertie County, a rural county in the state's northeast -- about 130 miles east of Raleigh -- that has just 21,000 residents.
Two suspected tornadoes cut a wide swath across the county, flattening houses and tossing around farm equipment and vehicles, said Zee Lamb, Bertie's county manager.
"There are homes that are just totally leveled," he said. "Anybody who was in those homes could not have survived."
Among the dead were several elderly residents of an assisted-living facility caught in the path of the storm, Mr. Lamb said.
Similar scenes of destruction could be found in elsewhere in the state, notable in Wake County and the cities of Sanford and Dunn.
In Raleigh, three children were killed when the mobile home they lived in was crushed by a falling tree. A fourth child, a 6-month-old girl, is in critical condition.
The scene left neighbors of the victims screaming in vain to help them get their babies out from under the tree.
In the neighborhoods just east and south of downtown Raleigh, there was substantial wind damage, but remarkably, no one was killed.
Still, those venturing out Sunday into the damaged neighborhoods near downtown were confronted by an almost eerie absence of officialdom.
Multiple busy intersections had no working stoplights or officers to smooth the flow of traffic.
Shaw University, founded in 1865 as the first historically black college in the South, announced it would remain closed for the remainder of the semester because of the damage.
The city of Raleigh had roughly 30 teams out working to clear away debris.
Occasional private tree services and Progress Energy trucks chipped away at the huge backlog of power outages, but the task was immense. More than 60,000 electricity customers remained without power late Sunday in a swath of counties running from Raleigh to the coast.
The storm claimed its first lives Thursday night in Oklahoma, then roared through Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Authorities have said seven died in Arkansas; seven in Alabama; two in Oklahoma; and one in Mississippi. In Virginia, local emergency officials reported seven storm-related deaths, said Virginia Department of Emergency Management spokesman Bob Spieldenner.
Mr. Spieldenner said the state medical examiner's office confirmed one person died in Gloucester, where a tornado hit; two died in flash flooding in Waynesboro; and one person died in Wythe County when a tree fell on a mobile home. Officials were still investigating another two deaths reported in Gloucester and one in Page County.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue spent Sunday touring areas of the state hit the hardest by the storm. She declared a state of emergency for all of North Carolina on Saturday evening, an act that is a prerequisite for asking for federal disaster assistance.
Ms. Perdue said the 62 tornadoes reported were the most since March 1984, when a storm system spawned 22 twisters in the Carolinas that killed 57 people -- 42 in North Carolina -- and injured hundreds.
Associated Press contributed.