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Melody Zollman finds a toy bear as she looks through the rubble Melody Zollman finds a toy bear as she looks through the rubble of her home destroyed by a tornado in Henryville, Ind., in a scene repeated throughout the day.
Melody Zollman finds a toy bear as she looks through the rubble of her home destroyed by a tornado in Henryville, Ind., in a scene repeated throughout the day.
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Published: Sunday, 3/4/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Shocked towns pick up pieces after twisters

Death toll climbs to at least 38; fatalities include 3 in south Ohio

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

HENRYVILLE, Ind. -- Rescue teams and residents combed through storm-wracked towns to assess damage on Saturday from a series of tornadoes that cut a 1,000-mile swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico.

At least 38 people were killed in five states, but a 2-year-old girl was somehow found alive and alone in a field near her Indiana home. Her family did not survive.

The day was filled with such stories, told as emergency officials trudged with search dogs past knocked-down cell-phone towers and ruined homes looking for survivors, marking searched roads and homes with orange paint.

The fast-moving twisters spawned by huge thunderstorms splintered blocks of homes, damaged schools and a prison, and tossed around vehicles like toys, killing 19 people in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia, officials said.

"It's like a bomb went off and everything is splintered," said Gov. John Kasich, who declared an emergency in Ohio and mobilized state resources to help.

Debris from homes and trees litter the path of Friday's tornado in Henryville, Ind. on Saturday, March 3, 2012. Severe storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed dozens of people in five states - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. Debris from homes and trees litter the path of Friday's tornado in Henryville, Ind. on Saturday, March 3, 2012. Severe storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed dozens of people in five states - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
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He talked by phone with President Obama on Saturday but didn't request a federal emergency declaration, noting that officials are still assessing the damage.

"We're not unfamiliar with Mother Nature's wrath out here in Indiana," Gov. Mitch Daniels told CNN during a visit to the stricken southeast corner of the state. "But this is about as serious as we've seen in the years since I've been in this job," he said, standing against the backdrop of the hard-hit town of Henryville, which declared a night-time curfew to prevent looting.

The worst damage appeared centered in the small towns of southern Indiana and eastern Kentucky's Appalachian foothills. No building was untouched and few were recognizable in West Liberty, Ky., about 90 miles from Lexington, where two police cruisers were picked up and tossed into City Hall.

"It looks like a bomb was dropped on that town," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear said after touring the damage.

The spate of storms was the second in little more than 48 hours, after an earlier round killed 13 people in the Midwest and South, and the latest in a string of severe-weather episodes that have ravaged the heartland in the past year.

The National Weather Service said the four twisters to hit Kentucky were the worst in the region in 24 years.

In Indiana, an EF-4 tornado -- the second-highest on the Fujita scale that measures tornadic force -- packing 175 mph winds hit the town of Henryville, and stayed on the ground for more than 50 miles. The storms scarred the landscape over hundreds of miles, leaving behind shredded sheet metal, insulation, gutted buildings, crunched-up cars, and even a fire hydrant.

The trailer that was once the home of Viva Johnson's mother was sitting in a graveyard on Saturday, covering the dead alongside downed trees and other debris.

"You can't even tell where the headstones are," said Ms. Johnson, who lives in Pulaski County, Kentucky.

In Indiana, a toddler was found alone in a field near her family's home after a tornado hit in New Pekin.

Authorities learned Saturday she is the sole survivor of her immediate family, said Cis Gruebbel, a spokesman for Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville. The girl's mother, father, 2-month-old sister, and 3-year-old brother all died Friday, Ms. Gruebbel said.

The surviving child is in critical condition with extended family members at the hospital and authorities are still trying to figure out how she ended up in the field.

About 20 miles east, a twister demolished Henryville, Ind., the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder "Colonel" Harland Sanders.

The second story of the elementary was torn off, one of the city's three schools lost to weather; the punishing winds blew out the windows and gutted the Henryville Community Presbyterian Church.

Residents look through a house where a women was killed in Moscow, Ohio, Saturday. Residents look through a house where a women was killed in Moscow, Ohio, Saturday.
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A secretary said a bus left the city's high school Friday afternoon with 11 children, but the driver turned back after realizing they were driving straight into the storm.

The children hid under tables and desks at the school nurse's station when the tornado hit; none were hurt, but the building is a total loss.

The school bus was tossed several hundred yards into the side of a restaurant.

Todd and Julie Money were hiding there, having fled their Scottsburg home. "Unreal. The pressure on your body, your ears pop, trees snap," Mr. Money said. "When that bus hit the building, we thought it exploded."

The storms hit as far east as Ohio, where the Ohio River town of Moscow was so decimated that rugs hung from the trees.

"This half is gone and that half is damaged," said village native Steve Newberry.

Moscow village Administrator Sandra Ashba estimated 25 of the 100 homes and other buildings were destroyed and said several dozen more were damaged.



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