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Lawmakers witness tornado damage in NC, across the South

Lawmakers on Monday continued to visit communities in their districts devastated by a string of tornadoes that left an estimated 45 people dead.

“I’m seeing nothing but utter devastation. Homes that stood two days ago are nothing but rubble,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldBickering Democrats return with divisions Congress must protect kidney disease patients during the COVID-19 pandemic The time for HELP is now: Senate should pass bill to expedite recovery following natural disasters MORE (D-N.C.) told The Hill.

The congressman said that he personally sought shelter in his car under a highway overpass with roughly 30 other vehicles.

On Monday, Butterfield flew with North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue (D) via helicopter to Bertie County, one of the region’s most devastated areas.

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“We’ve taken a major hit here in the 1st district,” he said. “We’re at the emergency management station right now. We’ve got 11 deaths in the county, 50 people have been injured and eight of those are seriously injured or critically injured.”

A number of lawmakers were asking for federal assistance to help their districts deal with the aftermath of storms that tore across the South last week. Many lawmakers also experienced the storms firsthand, or through their families.

Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan10 under-the-radar races to watch in November The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE’s (D-N.C.) office in Raleigh lost power and was closed until Monday morning by the storms. The senator spent Sunday and Monday touring storm-ravaged neighborhoods in her state including the campus of Shaw University.

North Carolina experienced nearly half of the 45 reported fatalities in the series of tornadoes that ripped across 12 states from Thursday through Saturday. The National Weather Service received 249 tornado reports over the three days.

Rep. Tim GriffinJohn (Tim) Timothy GriffinFlynn discloses lobbying that may have helped Turkey Tea Party class reassesses record Huckabee's daughter to run '16 campaign MORE (R-Ark.) was in Washington but said his family witnessed the damage.

“A large piece of a tree was blown into the street and partially impacted my automobile,” he wrote in an email to The Hill. “A large tree from next door was blown toward my home but didn’t fall. It is leaning over my home and will be cut down today.”

Griffin has since visited areas hit by the storms, and has been in touch with community leaders to offer his assistance.

“I have also been calling the victims’ families and I am looking into attending memorial services of the victims,” Griffin wrote. Seven fatalities were reported across the state so far.

Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) experienced a “very rough flight” as he flew from Washington back to his home in Alabama’s 1st district during the storms, according to his press secretary Michael Lewis.

Three deaths occurred in the congressman’s district in Vinegar Bend, Ala. Bonner has been coordinating with state emergency management personnel, but has not visited the affected areas due to scheduled events surrounding the anniversary of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said Lewis.

Six people in Virginia were killed, including three in Rep. Rob WittmanRobert (Rob) Joseph WittmanTrade groups make lobbying push to be included in small business loan program Overnight Defense: 32 dead in ISIS-claimed attack in Kabul | Trump says Taliban could 'possibly' overrun Afghan government when US leaves | House poised for Iran war powers vote next week Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel MORE’s (R-Va.) district, he told The Hill.

“I flew with [Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)] over the sites and you could see through this particular area a very distinct path of where the tornadoes went through,” he said. “A tremendous amount of damage, trees blown down, some houses completely destroyed, completely leveled.”

The congressman from Virginia’s 1st district also experienced the storms firsthand during an outdoor event hit by rain and lightning.

“We escaped any of the tornado activity there, but we were out in it that afternoon,” Wittman said.

Both of Virginia’s senators were keeping abreast of damage in their state as well. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has been in touch with local officials in affected areas, and stood “ready to work with any constituents needing the help of the federal government,” according to his press secretary.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerLeadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns IRS races to get remaining stimulus checks to low-income households Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software MORE (D-Va.) has been in touch with Gloucester County officials to assess the damage, said his press secretary Kevin Hall. Warner visited affected areas and met with local officials Monday, and will return to his previous schedule Tuesday.

Many lawmakers planned to return to their previously scheduled events after Monday.

According to Butterfield, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was already on the ground in his district in North Carolina conducting an assessment.

“Once the preliminary assessment is complete, then the governor ... will be asking for a presidential declaration,” he said. “And assuming that the presidential declaration is forthcoming — and I can’t imagine that it would not be — then what we’re going to start is individual grants to families.”

Wittman said that his district would also be requesting federal emergency relief. According to the congressman, counties in Virginia were in the process of conducting an assessment to petition FEMA to federally designate the area as a disaster.

Throughout the devastation he witnessed, Wittman said there was a great outpouring of support and more volunteers than could actually be utilized.

“The silver lining in all of this is the response there in the community,” he said. “People have really come together to help their neighbors, and it’s just heartwarming to see what people are doing, putting themselves out there.”

-- This story was updated at 6:18 p.m.