Storms demolish small towns in Ind., Ky.; 38 dead

  • Piles of splintered wood is all that remains of homes in Henryville, Ind., Friday, March 2, 2012, in Marysville, Ind. Powerful storms stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes flattened buildings in several states, wrecked two Indiana towns and bred anxiety across a wide swath of the country in the second powerful tornado outbreak this week. (AP Photo/The Courier-Journal, Michael Clevenger)Piles of splintered wood is all that remains of homes in Henryville, Ind., Friday, March 2, 2012, in Marysville, Ind. Powerful storms stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes flattened buildings in several states, wrecked two Indiana towns and bred anxiety across a wide swath of the country in the second powerful tornado outbreak this week. (AP Photo/The Courier-Journal, Michael Clevenger)
  • Greg Cook hugs his dog Coco after finding her inside his destroyed home  in the East Limestone, Ala. on Friday, March 2, 2012.  A reported tornado destroyed several houses in northern Alabama as storms threatened more twisters across the region Friday  (AP Photo/The Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr.)Greg Cook hugs his dog Coco after finding her inside his destroyed home in the East Limestone, Ala. on Friday, March 2, 2012. A reported tornado destroyed several houses in northern Alabama as storms threatened more twisters across the region Friday (AP Photo/The Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr.)
  • A funnel cloud begins to form over the Canebrake Subdivision of Athens, Ala., Friday, March 2, 2012. Homes were damaged and utilities were interrupted when several suspected tornadoes struck Limestone County Friday morning. (AP Photo/Chris Simmons, Athens Fire and Rescue Dept.)A funnel cloud begins to form over the Canebrake Subdivision of Athens, Ala., Friday, March 2, 2012. Homes were damaged and utilities were interrupted when several suspected tornadoes struck Limestone County Friday morning. (AP Photo/Chris Simmons, Athens Fire and Rescue Dept.)
  • Greg Cook hugs his friend David Derrick at East Limestone community on Friday, March 2, 2012.  A reported tornado destroyed several houses in northern Alabama as storms threatened more twisters across the region Friday (AP Photo/The Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr.)Greg Cook hugs his friend David Derrick at East Limestone community on Friday, March 2, 2012. A reported tornado destroyed several houses in northern Alabama as storms threatened more twisters across the region Friday (AP Photo/The Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr.)
  • Tammy Jenkins take time from cleaning up to survey the damage to a strip mall Friday, March 2, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill.  A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South.   (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tammy Jenkins take time from cleaning up to survey the damage to a strip mall Friday, March 2, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
  • An American flag flies from what is left of the tree in front of a destroyed senior center Friday, March 2, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill.   A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South.  (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) An American flag flies from what is left of the tree in front of a destroyed senior center Friday, March 2, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
  • Brooke Hill helps a friend salvage and clean up what they can from her home Thursday, March 1, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Brooke Hill helps a friend salvage and clean up what they can from her home Thursday, March 1, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
  • Volunteers and state officials work to cleaning up debris Thurday March 1, 2012 that was deposited in the area by Wednesday's flooding in the Winfield Community near Fairmont in Marion County W. Va. According to officials on sence there were at least  two out buildings a fifth wheeler camper, a car and a truck buried in the debris.  W.Va Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency proclamation for Marion County, W.Va. (AP Photo/Times West Virginian, Tammy Shriver) Volunteers and state officials work to cleaning up debris Thurday March 1, 2012 that was deposited in the area by Wednesday's flooding in the Winfield Community near Fairmont in Marion County W. Va. According to officials on sence there were at least two out buildings a fifth wheeler camper, a car and a truck buried in the debris. W.Va Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued a state of emergency proclamation for Marion County, W.Va. (AP Photo/Times West Virginian, Tammy Shriver)
  • Residents assist in the cleanup after a tornado touched down, Thursday, March 1, 2012 in Harveyville, Kan.   (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Thad Allton)Residents assist in the cleanup after a tornado touched down, Thursday, March 1, 2012 in Harveyville, Kan. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Thad Allton)
  • Levi Fogle strums on his guitar alongside Sarah Pearce outside their South Water Street home Thursday, March 1, in Harrisburg, Ill. (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Paul Newton)Levi Fogle strums on his guitar alongside Sarah Pearce outside their South Water Street home Thursday, March 1, in Harrisburg, Ill. (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Paul Newton)
  • Judy Hudnall, right, buries her head in her brother, Gene Pickerill's arms after she arrived at the scene on Nugent Drive in Henderson, Ky Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky.  (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)Judy Hudnall, right, buries her head in her brother, Gene Pickerill's arms after she arrived at the scene on Nugent Drive in Henderson, Ky Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)
  • Brooke Hill, right, of Carrier Mills, Ill., looks around some of the damage caused by a tornado on Wednesday, as she and friend Cera Wise help clean up the what's left of a house, in Harrisburg, Ill., Thursday, March 1, 2012. Damaged communities tried to take advantage of the brief break in the weather, mindful of one meteorologist's warning that by Friday, both regions would again be "right in the bull's eye." (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Paul Newton)Brooke Hill, right, of Carrier Mills, Ill., looks around some of the damage caused by a tornado on Wednesday, as she and friend Cera Wise help clean up the what's left of a house, in Harrisburg, Ill., Thursday, March 1, 2012. Damaged communities tried to take advantage of the brief break in the weather, mindful of one meteorologist's warning that by Friday, both regions would again be "right in the bull's eye." (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan, Paul Newton)
  • Fred Beaty, left, wipes away tears as his brother Gary Beaty looks at the home near Crossville, Tenn.  where a deadly tornado on Wednesday killed their sister-in-law, Melissa Evans and sent their brother Ricky Beaty to the hospital, Thursday, March 1, 2012. National Weather Service survey teams were set Thursday to evaluate damage from powerful storms that swept across the state, killing three people and damaging dozens of homes.  (AP Photo/Wade Payne)Fred Beaty, left, wipes away tears as his brother Gary Beaty looks at the home near Crossville, Tenn. where a deadly tornado on Wednesday killed their sister-in-law, Melissa Evans and sent their brother Ricky Beaty to the hospital, Thursday, March 1, 2012. National Weather Service survey teams were set Thursday to evaluate damage from powerful storms that swept across the state, killing three people and damaging dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
  • Mike Hatheway sits on a tree uprooted by a deadly tornado as he talks on the phone at the remains of his grandparents home in the Rinnie Community near Crossville, Tenn. Thursday, March 1, 2012. His grandmother Carolyn Jones was killed and his grandfather Harold Jones was taken to the hospital.  A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)Mike Hatheway sits on a tree uprooted by a deadly tornado as he talks on the phone at the remains of his grandparents home in the Rinnie Community near Crossville, Tenn. Thursday, March 1, 2012. His grandmother Carolyn Jones was killed and his grandfather Harold Jones was taken to the hospital. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
  • A picture frame and personal belongings are remains left behind in Harrisburg, Ill. on Thursday, March 1, 2012.  A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes  Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South.  (AP Photo/Robert Ray)A picture frame and personal belongings are remains left behind in Harrisburg, Ill. on Thursday, March 1, 2012. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
  • St. Joseph's Catholic Church is seen left in ruins Thursday, March 1, 2012, in Ridgway, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes  Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South.   (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) St. Joseph's Catholic Church is seen left in ruins Thursday, March 1, 2012, in Ridgway, Ill. A pre-dawn twister flattened entire blocks of homes Wednesday as violent storms ravaged the Midwest and South. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
  • From left, Alli Ferrell, 10, and cousin Christian Murray, 12, sit on the front porch, as Lindsey Murray, 15, of Harrisburg, Ill., paints "for sale fixer upper" on the side of the home of their grandmother, Sharon Murray, 61, after a tornado destroyed the house in Harrisburg, Ill., Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. A tornado struck the small town in southern Illinois killing 6. Murray was not at home at the time of the storm. A prosthetic leg was found among the wreckage. (AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)From left, Alli Ferrell, 10, and cousin Christian Murray, 12, sit on the front porch, as Lindsey Murray, 15, of Harrisburg, Ill., paints "for sale fixer upper" on the side of the home of their grandmother, Sharon Murray, 61, after a tornado destroyed the house in Harrisburg, Ill., Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. A tornado struck the small town in southern Illinois killing 6. Murray was not at home at the time of the storm. A prosthetic leg was found among the wreckage. (AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee)
  • A prosthetic leg found among the debris caused by a tornado that ripped through Harrisburg, Ill. leans against a damaged home Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)A prosthetic leg found among the debris caused by a tornado that ripped through Harrisburg, Ill. leans against a damaged home Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
  • Steven Skaggs, front, and Mike Hatheway sit on a foundation of their grandparents home where a deadly tornado destroyed houses in the Rinnie Community near Crossville, Tenn. Thursday, March 1, 2012. Their grandmother Carolyn Jones was killed and his grandfather Harold Jones was taken to the hospital. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)Steven Skaggs, front, and Mike Hatheway sit on a foundation of their grandparents home where a deadly tornado destroyed houses in the Rinnie Community near Crossville, Tenn. Thursday, March 1, 2012. Their grandmother Carolyn Jones was killed and his grandfather Harold Jones was taken to the hospital. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
  • Judy Hudnall sift through the debris left from Wednesday morning's storm in Henderson Ky. Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky.  (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)Judy Hudnall sift through the debris left from Wednesday morning's storm in Henderson Ky. Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)
  • Family members and friends try to salvage what they can after a tornado destroyed their neighborhood homes Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)Family members and friends try to salvage what they can after a tornado destroyed their neighborhood homes Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
  • People try to salvage what they can after a tornado destroyed homes in their neighborhood Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)People try to salvage what they can after a tornado destroyed homes in their neighborhood Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Harrisburg, Ill. The tornado that blasted Harrisburg, killing six, was an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
  • This aerial photo shows a path of damage stretching west from the backside of a Wal-Mart Supercenter to the east in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm hit Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Several deaths have been reported in Harrisburg and left the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured, the hospital's top administrator said. (AP Photo/The Southern, Steve Jahnke) This aerial photo shows a path of damage stretching west from the backside of a Wal-Mart Supercenter to the east in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm hit Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Several deaths have been reported in Harrisburg and left the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured, the hospital's top administrator said. (AP Photo/The Southern, Steve Jahnke)
  • Gene Byrd pauses for a moment while he and his son Devyn Byrd, 14, look over some of the damage sustained to a friends house after a severe storm hit in the early morning hours on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Harrisrbug, Ill.  A severe pre-dawn storm pounded portions of southern Illinois on Wednesday. Several deaths have been reported in Harrisburg and left the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured, the hospital's top administrator said. (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan,Paul Newton )Gene Byrd pauses for a moment while he and his son Devyn Byrd, 14, look over some of the damage sustained to a friends house after a severe storm hit in the early morning hours on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Harrisrbug, Ill. A severe pre-dawn storm pounded portions of southern Illinois on Wednesday. Several deaths have been reported in Harrisburg and left the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured, the hospital's top administrator said. (AP Photo/The Southern Illinoisan,Paul Newton )
  • Kendra McKinley pulls a flag from the debris of her grandparents river camp home in Henderson Ky. Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky.  (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)Kendra McKinley pulls a flag from the debris of her grandparents river camp home in Henderson Ky. Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley)
  • Windows are blown out of a Hilton hotel in downtown Branson, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. A powerful storm system  lashed the Midwest early Wednesday, roughing up the country music resort city of Branson and laying waste to a small town in Kansas. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)Windows are blown out of a Hilton hotel in downtown Branson, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. A powerful storm system lashed the Midwest early Wednesday, roughing up the country music resort city of Branson and laying waste to a small town in Kansas. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
  • A stop sign lays over in the KC Estates subdivision after severe weather passed Hodgenville, Ky. on Wednesday Feb. 29, 2012.  Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky. (AP Photo/Patti Longmire)  A stop sign lays over in the KC Estates subdivision after severe weather passed Hodgenville, Ky. on Wednesday Feb. 29, 2012. Waves of strong storms ripped roofs off homes, apartment buildings and a bank and destroyed several buildings in north-central Kentucky. (AP Photo/Patti Longmire)
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WEST LIBERTY, Ky. — Across the South and Midwest, survivors emerged Saturday to find blue sky and splinters where homes once stood, cars flung into buildings and communications crippled after dozens of tornadoes chainsawed through a region of millions, leveling small towns along the way.

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. A couple that fled their home for the safety of a restaurant basement made it, even after the storms threw a school bus into their makeshift shelter.

Saturday was a day filled with such stories, told as emergency officials trudged with search dogs past knocked-down cellphone towers and ruined homes looking for survivors in rural Kentucky and Indiana, marking searched roads and homes with orange paint. President Barack Obama offered federal assistance, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared an emergency Saturday.

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 white 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.

In East Bernstadt, two hours to the southwest, Carol Rhodes clutched four VHS tapes she’d found in debris of her former home as she sobbed under a bright sun Saturday.

“It was like whoo, that was it,” said Rhodes, 63, who took refuge with four family members in a basement bedroom that she had just refinished for a grandchild.

“Honey, I felt the wind and I said, ‘Oh my God,’ and then it (the house) was gone. I looked up and I could see the sky.”

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 American heartland in the past year.

Friday’s violent storms touched down in at least a dozen states from Georgia to Illinois, killing 19 people in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia.

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 a trail of shredded sheet metal, insulation, gutted churches, 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 Johnson, who lives in Pulaski County, Ky.

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 spokeswoman for Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky.

The girl’s mother, father, 2-month-old sister and 3-year-old brother all died Friday, Gruebbel said. She 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 school 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.

A school 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 nearby restaurant. Todd and Julie Money were hiding there, having fled their Scottsburg home because it has no basement.

“Unreal. The pressure on your body, your ears pop, trees snap,” Todd 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, who was permitted into town Saturday to pick up medical supplies for his mother.

In Kentucky, the Rev. Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church was huddling with four others in the basement as the church collapsed.

The pastor and his wife had just returned to the parsonage when he turned on the TV and saw that the storm was coming. Jett yelled to his wife to take shelter in the basement of the church next door, where they were joined by two congregants and a neighbor.

The last one down was Jett’s wife, Jeanene.

“I just heard this terrific noise,” she said. “The windows were blowing out as I came down the stairs.”

The building collapsed, but they were able to get out through a basement door. They escaped with only bumps and bruises.

Janet Elliott was sitting on her bed in Chattanooga, Tenn., when a severe weather warning scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Fierce winds were blowing, and her cats seemed clingy. Her dogs had gotten low to the floor.

She ran to the basement and tried to pull the door shut, but she couldn’t. She heard a ripping sound as the ceiling peeled off and wind wrenched the doorknob from her hand.

“I looked up and I could see the sky,” she said. “I realized if I had stayed on the bed two seconds longer, I would have been sucked out or crushed.”

In Washington County, Ind., residents saw a massive tornado come over a hill and plow through a grove of trees. When the winds had passed, it looked as if a line of bulldozers had rolled through.

Gene Lewellyn, his son and his son’s 7-year-old daughter saw the tornado come over the hill, rushed to the basement of his one-story brick home and covered themselves with a carpet.

“It just shook once, and it (the house) was gone,” said Lewellyn, 62, a retired press operator.

Friday’s tornado outbreak had been forecast for days; meteorologists at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center had said the day would be one of a handful this year that warranted its highest risk level. The weather service issued 297 tornado warnings and 388 severe thunderstorm warnings from Friday through early Saturday.

In April, when tornadoes killed more than 240 people in Alabama, it issued 688 tornado warnings and 757 severe thunderstorm warnings from Texas to New York, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the storm prediction center.

It was a distinction without a difference for Lewellyn, who spent Saturday picking through the debris in 38-degree cold. His family was safe, but their home was reduced to a pile of bricks and sheet metal wrapped around splintered trees. Pieces of insulation coated the ground, and across the street a large trailer picked up by the storm had landed on top of a boat.

“Right now, we are not sure what we are going to do,” he said. “We all get out what we can get out.”

___

Suhr reported from New Pekin, Ind. Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Chattanooga, Tenn., Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis and Bruce Schreiner in East Bernstadt, Ky., contributed to this report.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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