Massive tornado outbreak kills 202; 100-year flood coming on Mississippi River

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:49 PM GMT on April 28, 2011

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A stunning tornado outbreak of incredible violence has left at least 202 dead across the Eastern U.S.; injuries probably number over a thousand, with 600 injured in the town of Tuscaloosa alone. The tornadoes carved huge swaths of damage, completely flattening large sections of many towns, and damage from the storms is likely to be the greatest in history for any tornado outbreak. Hardest hit was Alabama, with at least 149 dead; at least 36 were killed in neighboring Mississippi. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center logged 160 preliminary reports of tornadoes between 8am EDT yesterday and 8am EDT today. At least 11 of these tornadoes were killer tornadoes; deaths occurred in six states. Damage from some of these storms appeared to be at least EF-4, and it is likely that there were multiple violent EF-4 or EF-5 tornadoes. The death toll makes the April 27 - 28 outbreak the third deadliest tornado outbreak of the past 50 years, behind the April 3 - 4, 1974 Super Outbreak (315 killed) and the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak (256 killed.)


Figure 1. Damage in Birmingham, Alabama from last night's tornado. Image posted to twitter.


Figure 2. Damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama from last night's tornado. Image posted to twitter, photographer unknown.


Figure 3. Radar reflectivity image of the Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado.

The 3-day total of preliminary tornado reports from this outbreak is 278, close to the 323 preliminary tornado reports logged during the massive April 14 - 16 tornado outbreak. That outbreak has 155 confirmed tornadoes so far, making it the largest April tornado outbreak on record. It is unprecedented to have two such massive tornado outbreaks occur so close together. According to a list of tornado outbreaks maintained by Wikipedia, only two other tornado outbreaks have had as many as 150 twisters--the May 2004 outbreak (385), and the May 2003 outbreak (401).


Figure 4. Satellite image of last night's storm at 8:15pm EDT April 27, 2011. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.

Tornado outbreak winding down today
Tornado warnings continue to be issued this morning along the cold front now pushing towards the Atlantic coast, and a tornado was reported at 7:35am EDT in McBee, South Carolina. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has placed a large swath of the coast, from Florida to Vermont, in their "Slight Risk" region for severe weather. The high instability and high wind shear that triggered so many killer tornadoes yesterday is gone, and we should see only a few weak tornadoes today. No severe storms are predicted for Friday. Saturday has a slight risk of severe weather over Oklahoma and Texas.


Figure 5. Severe weather threat for Thursday, April 28, 2011.


Figure 6. Remarkable video of the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama yesterday. Fast forward to minute four to see the worst of the storm.


Figure 8. Tornado near Empire, Alabama, moving rapidly down a hill.

Unprecedented flooding predicted on Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
This week's storm system, in combination with heavy rains earlier this month, have pushed the Ohio River and Mississippi River to near-record levels near their confluence. The Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois is expected to crest at 60.5 feet on May 1. This would exceed 100-year flood stage, and be the highest flood in history, besting the 59.5' mark of 1937. Heavy rains of 10 - 15 inches have inundated the region over the past few days, and one levee breach at Black River levee near Poplar Bluff, Missouri, has resulted in the evacuation of over 500 homes. Poplar Bluff has received 15.45" of rain since Friday morning. The greatest rain gauge-measured precipitation from the storm occurred in Springdale, Arkansas, where 19.70" inches has fallen since Friday morning.


Figure 9. The latest River Flood Outlook from NOAA shows major flooding is occurring over many of the nation's major rivers.

Record 100+ year flood expected on Mississippi River
Snow melt from this winter's record snow pack across the Upper Mississippi River has formed a pulse of flood waters that is moving downstream on the Mississippi, and is currently located in Iowa. When this floodwater pulse moves south of Cairo, Illinois over the next two weeks, it will join with the record water flow coming out of the Ohio River, and create the highest flood heights ever recorded on the Mississippi, according to the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service. Along a 400-mile stretch of the Mississippi, from Cairo to Natchez, Mississippi the Mississippi is expected to experience the highest flood heights since records began 100 or more years ago, at 5 of the 10 gauges on the river along this stretch. The records are predicted to begin to fall on May 3 at New Madrid, and progress downstream to Natchez by May 20. Areas that are not protected by levees can expect extensive damage from the flooding, and it is possible that the Army Corps of Engineers will have to intentionally dynamite a levee at Birds Point and New Madrid, Missouri to protect the town of Cairo from flooding.

The Mississippi River at New Madrid, MO, about 40 miles downstream of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, is currently at 44', the 3rd highest flood in history. The river is predicted to crest on Tuesday very near the all-time record height of 48 feet. The NWS warns that at this height, "Large amounts of property damage can be expected. Evacuation of many homes and businesses becomes necessary." Previous record heights at this location:

(1) 48.00 ft on 02/03/1937
(2) 44.60 ft on 04/09/1913
(3) 43.60 ft on 04/04/1975
(4) 43.50 ft on 02/16/1950
(5) 42.94 ft on 03/17/1997

The timing of the floods crests will depend upon a complex mix a factors, including how much rain falls over the next month, the possible influence of southerly winds holding up the floodwater pulses, the potential opening of flood control structures and reduction of flows from flood control reservoirs, and potential levee failures (no levee has failed on the Lower Mississippi south of the Ohio River junction since 1950, however.) The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 17 feet at New Orleans on May 22, three feet below the top of the levees. This would likely require opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway 28 miles upstream from New Orleans, to relieve pressure on the city's levees. Opening the spillway drains 250,000 cubic feet per second of flow into Lake Pontchartrain.

Helping out tornado victims
For those who want to lend a helping hand to those impacted by the widespread destruction this month's severe weather has brought, stop by the portlight.org blog.

Related post: Are tornadoes getting stronger and more frequent? The answer is--we don't know.

Jeff Masters

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ABC News now says 292 deaths.
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Afternoon all.

Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
Why don't you all just stop speculating, and wait for the official storm report from the nws?
Hmmm... seems like hypothesizing to me.

I didn't want to give credence to the idea at the time, but this morning's estimate of almost 300 total deaths seemed low to me at the time. I was using as a point of comparison the devastation I observed after the Christchurch earthquake a couple months back. I was thinking closer to 250 fatalities in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham combined, with the others added to that. To be honest, though, I hadn't expected the TN and VA numbers to be so high... That 1974 death toll record was one that could have stood for another 100 years, if it was up to me... :(
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
Because we need something to blog about ;)


NE FL may get some rain if this doesn't dissipate.

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Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
Why don't you all just stop speculating, and wait for the official storm report from the nws?
Because we need something to blog about ;)
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Quoting pipelines:


I've seen plenty of video on the local news here of foundations covered in debris with no walls left. You forget, it went through a highly populated area, you aren't going to see clean slates because of the huge amount of debris in the air falling everywhere.
I'm not forgetting that fact. That just made it all the worse. All I'm saying is from the pictures I've seen I haven't seen footage like that, but then again I'm sure there is a ton of stuff out there that I haven't seen. Plus, they aren't letting the media into the worst hit places yet. The fact that this has a real chance to pass the 1974 tornado outbreak in terms of fatalities is sickening.
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Quoting FLWeatherFreak91:
Why don't you all just stop speculating, and wait for the official storm report from the nws?


I'm not speculating, I'm stating a fact, I never gave the tornado a rating.
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Quoting Ylee:
Re. post 422: Ike's damage was not limited to the Gulf coast. It continued up through the U.S., carrying tropical storm force winds into Canada. As for me, it uprooted a 3 ft. diameter maple in our front yard, and knocked out power for thousands in the midwest for up to two weeks. Nasty storm.


I was deployed and spent Sept 14 to Nov 3, 2008, in Chrystal Beach, Port Bolivar, Gilchrist, and San Leon, TX, for Ike. Problem with Ike wasn't the wind... the storm surge and wave action on top of that for that area just plain wiped out everything. It looked just like the Tsunami in Japan. I was never so happy to come home ever.
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Quoting pipelines:


I've seen plenty of video on the local news here of foundations covered in debris with no walls left. You forget, it went through a highly populated area, you aren't going to see clean slates because of the huge amount of debris in the air falling everywhere.
Why don't you all just stop speculating, and wait for the official storm report from the nws?
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
Yes and no in my opinion. I haven't seen pictures yet of just foundations laying there. It's close, and I don't want to downplay what I've seen, but I'm growing skeptical that they will confirm and EF 5. Not like an EF 4 is all that much nicer... It's borderline.


I've seen plenty of video on the local news here of foundations covered in debris with no walls left. You forget, it went through a highly populated area, you aren't going to see clean slates because of the huge amount of debris in the air falling everywhere.
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443. Ylee
Re. post 422: Ike's damage was not limited to the Gulf coast. It continued up through the U.S., carrying tropical storm force winds into Canada. As for me, it uprooted a 3 ft. diameter maple in our front yard, and knocked out power for thousands in the midwest for up to two weeks. Nasty storm.
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Pretty similar to a lot of the pictures and videos I've seen of Alabama's tornado.
Yes and no in my opinion. I haven't seen pictures yet of just foundations laying there. It's close, and I don't want to downplay what I've seen, but I'm growing skeptical that they will confirm and EF 5. Not like an EF 4 is all that much nicer... It's borderline.
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
This is what F5 damage looks like:

Link


I was living in Iowa during this time and made the drive down the Kansas Turnpike (I-35) to Wichita. Had to make a brief detour through Andover on my way to view the destruction. Sickening.
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Nearly 1 million customers without power
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting NICycloneChaser:
The British media over here are really annoying me with their idiocy. They are showing a map of the US, and highlighting affected states, but to show the storms, they are super-imposing pictures of a hurricane over the states. The worst bit is that these news companies probably genuinely believe it's the same thing. Regardless, what I watched unfold last night via the internet was nothing short of tragic.


No lots of them in this country too. I was in Las Vegas when Gustav was forecasted to hit Galveston in 2008. Airport people said a tornado was coming toward us. Whole world is full of idiots.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
The British media over here are really annoying me with their idiocy. They are showing a map of the US, and highlighting affected states, but to show the storms, they are super-imposing pictures of a hurricane over the states. The worst bit is that these news companies probably genuinely believe it's the same thing. Regardless, what I watched unfold last night via the internet was nothing short of tragic.
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:
This is what F5 damage looks like:

Link


Pretty similar to a lot of the pictures and videos I've seen of Alabama's tornado.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10159
I screwed up the link in my response (now corrected) to your comment52, Neapolitan.
TEPCO claims "Water isn't leaking from No. 4 reactor pool...the water has been evaporating at a rate in line with calculations by experts."
My feelings on the matter were expressed in comment358.
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
435. IKE
195 now dead in Alabama.....284 total....per CNN.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
This is what F5 damage looks like:

Link
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Sorry if already posted, but Mississippi now has a second confirmed EF4 tornado in Smith County in Central MS. Winds 170mph .

Edit: Turns out that the tornado was an EF4 in Jasper County, but was an EF3 in Smith County.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10159
the Smithville was rated a EF4 with winds of 190mph now i noted itsays this preliminary wish i think that means there still looking and that rateing could go up some
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114750
Lots and lots of smoke/haze in the Gulf right now
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Ike's path was obsurd, a storm at it's lattitude in the Atlantic is NOT supposed to be able to go west and come to TX.
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
429. IKE
Statement as of 3:57 PM EDT on April 28, 2011


... NWS Tallahassee confirms an EF-1 tornado in Jackson County
Florida...

... Jackson County Florida survey...

The National Weather Service in conjunction with Jackson County
Florida emergency management conducted a storm survey today at the
Marianna Municipal Airport. One tornado was confirmed in this area
with a maximum intensity of EF-1.

This tornado initially touched down at the Marianna Municipal
Airport around 450 am CDT and tracked eastward along an intermittent
track for about 3 miles before the damage track ended. The damage
width peaked around 150 yards near the Airport. In this
area... damage was primarily limited to private aircraft that were
severely damaged or destroyed. Several trees near the Airport were
also snapped.

The damage in this area was consistent with a low end EF-1 tornado
with maximum winds up to 90 mph.

... Leon County Florida...

The National Weather Service conducted a second survey across
northern Leon County this morning and determined the wind damage in
this area was consistent with straight line wind damage up to 65
mph. Nearly all of the damage in this area was limited to trees
either being uprooted or snapped. The damage was most concentrated
between killearn acres to the south and Bradfordville Road to the
north.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
If the Smithfield tornado wasn't an EF 5, I'm not sure if the Tuscaloosa tornado will be one either. When you have bark coming of trees and two story brick houses completely gone, that's about as bad as it gets in terms of wind damage.
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Compared to nuclear destruction it does look like a bomb went off.

Even it this photo of bomb destruction you can see that trees are still upright. Burnt, but upright. Tough trees.

If you asked me to tell the difference it would be tough in some photos.

http://science.howstuffworks.com/nuclear-detectiv e3.htm
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Quoting presslord:


Do you by any chance remember how many died in Ike? Might be interesting perspective...

NHC says 103 direct deaths, too: 74 in Haiti, 2 in the Dominican Republic, 7 in Cuba, 20 in the U.S. (plus as many as 64 more indirect deaths in the U.S.)
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Quoting RitaEvac:



Ike was blamed for at least 195 deaths. Of these, 74 were in Haiti


ya know...I had totally forgotten about the Haiti/Ike connection
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Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Please help in any way one can

The needs are great in the Impacted areas, as the images here in Tuscaloosa show so vividly.

Tornado Impact Images,,
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Ike was blamed for at least 195 deaths. Of these, 74 were in Haiti, which was already trying to recover from the impact of three storms earlier that year: Fay, Gustav, and Hanna. In the United States, 112 people were killed, and 23 are still missing.[2] Due to its immense size, Ike caused devastation from the Louisiana coastline all the way to the Kenedy County, Texas region near Corpus Christi, Texas.[6
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
So far the D.C area has been very lucky when it comes to dodging tornadoes.It has however been the neighbooring states that have been getting hit hard.According to the weather channel D.C is over due.Not so fast I say....
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16421
Quoting RitaEvac:
Unconfirmed report of 311 dead now


I thought I heard earlier the Super Outbreak of 1974 was the deadliest outbreak ever with 315 casualties. Unfortunately we've all witnessed history. This outbreak will no doubt eclipse the 74 outbreak and by quite a substantial margin before it's all said and done.
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(Ike) Yep. Just over 100 in the USA sounds about right.
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Quoting presslord:


Do you by any chance remember how many died in Ike? Might be interesting perspective...



Ike was blamed for at least 195 deaths. Of these, 74 were in Haiti
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting presslord:


Do you by any chance remember how many died in Ike? Might be interesting perspective...
Their are till estimates that over 225 might have died in the united states.Some belive that when the storm surge was coming in it washed some bodeies out to sea which were never found again.So that could still be interesting to look in to.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 16421
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh



how long dos it take for them to do a storm Summary i was thinking we would have some in right now
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114750
From the wu archive 103 were lost in IKE in 2008

2008
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Quoting presslord:


Do you by any chance remember how many died in Ike? Might be interesting perspective...

195 or so I think. Not all from US of course
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
Quoting presslord:


Do you by any chance remember how many died in Ike? Might be interesting perspective...


The last I heard there were about 190 unconfirmed Ike deaths, with about 120 confirmed. Haven't heard or seen much since then (October 2008)
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Unconfirmed report of 311 dead now


Do you by any chance remember how many died in Ike? Might be interesting perspective...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
An EF10 tornado or, heck, a Cat 10 hurricane are theoretically possible in much the same way that an MM 12.0 earthquake is possible: it could happen, but the amount of energy required to create such a monster is impossible without outside help. (In the case of a 12.0 earthquake, that would be the strike of a large asteroid, which would obviously be so devastating in and of itself as to make the 12.0 quake the least of your problems.)
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Quoting Tazmanian:
i say this is at lest EF5 right here


Looks more like tsunami damage than tornado damage.
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Quoting RitaEvac:
Unconfirmed report of 311 dead now

No doubt, There were reports yesterday of bodies throughout the subdivision near UA. I know from family members that participated last night with patient rescues that this was and is the case. They are students living off campus in the area. They were not allowed in the area today. It did not sound good. I think someones estimates of 500 may not be far fetched. Hope I am wrong.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
After looking at a ton of pictures and video of the damage, I'm about 80% certain that the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado will go down as an EF5 in some/many parts of its path.

FWIW, the Tuscaloosa area has been struck by 62 tornadoes since 1950 (though 13 of those were spawned by Hurricane Rita). Two of these were F5s (03/66 and 04/98), and another two were F4s (02/75 and 12/00). There were five F3s, and the rest were, of course, weaker. There have been a scattering of deaths from some of the previous storms, but the damage from yesterday's monster dwarfs the rest combined.
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Unconfirmed report of 311 dead now
Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9628
Quoting StAugustineFL:


I don't think we'd be interested in the Fujita scale if our house was nothing but a concrete slab or the family, friends, and neighbors we spoke to yesterday are no longer with us.


My point exactly. It does not matter to the victims
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
And to think, May is typically the worst tornado month, thats why they used to do the Vortex team efforts in May.


Quoting emcf30:
The death toll is now at a stunning 283 and counting, which is virtually unheard-of in the modern era for a tornado outbreak in the United States. There hasn’t been a triple-digit death toll from tornadoes in the U.S. since the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, which spawned the famous Xenia, Ohio tornado, and which killed approximately 330 people. This is easily the worst outbreak since that one, and unquestionably among the very worst in American history. It is also the first mass-casualty tornado event of the Doppler radar era. These storms were so violent, and took such devastating tracks, that not even ample advance warning could prevent massive losses of life.
I hope I’m wrong, but I bet we’ll end up in the 300s, just like the Super Outbreak. The monetary damage figures will also undoubtedly be staggering. Furthermore, while I haven’t seen any per-tornado death tolls yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado ends up being the deadliest single U.S. tornado since the 1940s or 1950s.

Just an incredible, terrible, heartbreaking disaster for the folks affected. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers today.
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Quoting emcf30:
If you are a victim standing in front of your subdivision, your house, and are lucky to be alive and and there is nothing but piles of ruble as far as you can see. They can tell you it is a EF3 or EF5. It does not matter, gone is gone. But for us weather freaks, we want to know. It is going to take some time to review all the areas.


I don't think we'd be interested in the Fujita scale if our house was nothing but a concrete slab or the family, friends, and neighbors we spoke to yesterday are no longer with us.
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The death toll is now at a stunning 283 and counting, which is virtually unheard-of in the modern era for a tornado outbreak in the United States. There hasn’t been a triple-digit death toll from tornadoes in the U.S. since the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, which spawned the famous Xenia, Ohio tornado, and which killed approximately 330 people. This is easily the worst outbreak since that one, and unquestionably among the very worst in American history. It is also the first mass-casualty tornado event of the Doppler radar era. These storms were so violent, and took such devastating tracks, that not even ample advance warning could prevent massive losses of life.
I hope I’m wrong, but I bet we’ll end up in the 300s, just like the Super Outbreak. The monetary damage figures will also undoubtedly be staggering. Furthermore, while I haven’t seen any per-tornado death tolls yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado ends up being the deadliest single U.S. tornado since the 1940s or 1950s.

Just an incredible, terrible, heartbreaking disaster for the folks affected. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers today.
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1933
local met just said he talked with the nws in alabama and they stated theirs no doubt that theirs f-5 damage in their state!!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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