Residents search through the debris from Friday's storm in hopes of salvaging items on Sunday in Holton, Ind. A string of violent storms scratched away small towns in Indiana and cut off rural communities in Kentucky as an early-season tornado outbreak struck on Friday.
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LOUISVILLE — An Indiana toddler found in a field after violent tornadoes died Sunday after being taken off life support, ending a hopeful tale for survivors in the Midwest and South picking through the storms’ devastation.
Fifteen-month-old Angel Babcock of New Pekin, Ind., was found after her family’s mobile home was destroyed in Friday’s storms. Her father, mother and two siblings were killed.
When Angel arrived at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville Friday night, she was opening her eyes — a hopeful sign, chief nursing officer Cis Gruebbel said.
Things turned on Saturday, when the swelling in her brain didn’t decrease, he said. As the day went on, her eyes ceased to move and she continued to deteriorate. There was no sign of brain activity.
Medical staff told the family there wasn’t anything more they could do. With extended family gathered to say goodbye, the family made the decision to end life support on Sunday.
“Angel has been reunited with her parents,” her grandfather, Jack Brough, said in a statement. “We want to thank God for all of you and for your thoughts and prayers. God will bring you and all of us out of this. This is what it will take. All should look to God.”
The girl’s death brings the overall toll from Friday’s storms to 39 across five states. Rescuers were still going door-to-door in rural areas to rule out more victims. Another round of storms earlier last week killed 13 people in the Midwest and South, the latest in a string of severe-weather episodes ravaging the American heartland in the past year.
On Sunday, people gathered to worship, comb through piles of debris, and learn what happened to loved ones and friends, often without modern technology to help.
Cellphone signals were hard to find, Internet was out, and electricity indefinitely interrupted. In many cases, word-of-mouth conversations replaced text messages, Facebook status updates, and phone calls.
“It’s horrible. It’s things you take for granted that aren’t there anymore,” said Jack Cleveland, 50, a Census Bureau worker from Henryville, Ind.
Randy Mattingly, a 24-year-old mechanic, said he and his Henryville neighbors passed on information by word-of-mouth to make sure people were OK: “It was like, ‘Hey, did you talk to this guy?’” He said state police quickly set up two gathering points for adults and children, at the church and at a nearby community center.
At Sunday’s mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, Father Steve Schaftlein turned the church into an information exchange, asking the 100 or so in attendance to stand up and share what they knew.
Lisa Smith, who has been Henryville’s postmaster for six weeks, told people that they could pick up their mail in Scottsburg, about 10 miles north. She said she was most worried about people needing medication and she had been shaking boxes to see if they had pills inside with hopes of connecting them to their recipients.
A local insurance agent, Lyn Murphy-Carter, shared another story. The founder of her agency, 84-year-old Tom Murphy, had told her always to keep paper records. That proved valuable without access to computers. She collected about 1,000 claims Saturday alone, and was gathering handwritten claims from policyholders at church.
In West Liberty, Ky., about 85 miles east of Lexington, loss of technology led to a confusing and stressful aftermath for Doris Shuck, who was cleaning her house when the storm approached. She grabbed her laptop, cellphone, and iPod and put them in a tote bag to bring down to the basement. The storms took her home, leaving only the basement and front porch. Huge piles of debris and mattresses were strewn in the back yard.
“I could hear the glass and hear the wood breaking. I just thought the house is going to fall on top of me,” she said. She had scrapes and bruises.
After the storm passed, she received a text message from her mother, 70 miles away in Prestonsburg, but couldn’t reply.
“I was just trying to figure out what had happened and get my thoughts together and my phone beeped and I looked and it was from my mom. I couldn’t answer it,” Shuck said. She went to the hospital where she works, but there was no Internet access there, either.
She reunited with her husband and daughter at the hospital and left for Prestonsburg to let her mother know they were OK. But they didn’t know her parents were on their way to West Liberty at the same time.
“We had no way to communicate that to each other. We’re so used to our cell phones and instant messaging. We didn’t have any of that.”
Her parents asked a state fish and wildlife officer to go to their home. The officer eventually found Doris Shuck’s name on a list at the hospital for people who were accounted for.
While it could be days before power and cell service are fully restored to the damaged areas, crews were making progress Sunday. In Indiana, about 2,800 homes were without power, down from 8,000 in the hours after the storms. But in some hard-hit areas, like Henryville, a substation and transmission lines need to be rebuilt, and that could take up to a week.
Almost 19,000 customers were without power in Kentucky, according to the state’s Public Service Commission, and a few thousand more from municipal utilities and TVA, which the PSC does not track.
Cellphone companies were trying to help residents by setting up mobile charging and email stations so they could communicate while power and cell service was still difficult to find. They also brought in portable towers to boost signals, and service was improving Sunday