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Death Toll at 280 as Storms Hit South, Syrian Politicians Quit in Protest

View a slide show of the storm damage in southern states:

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5:40 p.m. ET| Edgar Treiguts of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports on the storm’s aftermath in Georgia, where 13 people were killed:

5 p.m. ET | Officials say at least 280 people have died, the majority of them in Alabama, as a result of the storms.

2 p.m. ET | The estimated death toll now stands at 248 across six states. President Obama is expected to visit the area on Friday.

11:50 a.m. ET | Officials say the death toll stands at 214 people across six states, according to the Associated Press.

9 a.m. ET | The death toll from a wave of powerful storms hitting the southern United States rose to 178 Thursday, with 128 of them coming from hard-hit Alabama. Thirty-two were reported dead in Mississippi, and Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia have all reported fatalities. Parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia remain in a state of emergency.

The storms have unleashed heavy rain and powerful winds that have caused flooding and damaged homes and businesses. The National Weather Service said there were numerous reports of tornadoes. The NWS also predicts “severe thunderstorms from Gulf states to [the] Appalachians” Thursday evening.

President Obama pledged support for affected areas in a statement Wednesday, saying the government will “continue to help the people of Alabama and all citizens affected by these storms.” The magnitude of the storms has swamped emergency workers and crews dealing with the widespread damages and flattened neighborhoods.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who plans to tour the damage Thursday, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he expects the death toll to rise. In Tuscaloosa, where at least 32 people died, Mayor Walt Maddox called the storms “a devastating blow to the people of this community.”

Midwestern states have also been grappling with the effects of the storm system, including flooding in Illinois and a broken levee in Poplar Grove, Mo.

Syrian Officials Resign as Bloody Crackdown Continues

Some 200 members of Syria’s Baath party are said to have resigned in protest of the government’s handling of unrest in the country, especially in the southern city of Daraa, where demonstrations have wrought early morning raids, army tanks and live gun fire in the city. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has said the protests are being stirred by “armed extremists” and will be put down accordingly.

At the United Nations, Russia shot down a proposal by France, Britain, Germany and Portugal to condemn the action in Syria, saying it did not pose a threat to the international community. Syria’s representative at the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, rejected the idea, saying, “As a government, we cannot accept that some claim to value the lives of our sons more than we do,” adding there was “no need” for a U.N. Human Rights Council investigation to proceed.

Syria has sharply restricted foreign media access, and many media outlets have had to rely on witnesses and video footage to gain information.

Residents of Daraa remained hunkered down, and tanks could also be seen to the north in Latakia, where security forces reportedly opened fire on demonstrators. An estimated 450 people have died in almost two months of protests, more than 100 of them over the weekend.

Bahrain Sentences Four Shiite Protesters to Death

A military court in Bahrain sentenced four protesters to death and three to life in prison in connection with the deaths of two policemen during March demonstrations, which were put down by martial law and assistance from other Gulf states.

Human rights groups quickly condemned the convictions, which some categorized as a message to deter other protesters from future demonstrations.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, is ruled by a longstanding Sunni monarchy but has a predominantly Shiite population, which has claimed discrimination by the government. The unrest raised regional leaders’ fears that predominantly Shiite Iran could foment discord in their own countries.

Pakistan Bus Bomb Kills Five

A roadside bomb detonated in Karachi on Thursday, killing five aboard a bus carrying navy staff to work. The Pakistan Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. According to the group’s spokesman, the attack was in response to the Pakistani military’s support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region. In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Ahsanullah Ahsan said, “We are attacking the Pakistan army as it is supporting America against us.”

The attack follows two explosions on navy buses on Tuesday, which claimed four lives.

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