A homeowner in Henryville, Ind., picks through the debris of his tornado-destroyed home.

Photo by Chuck Branham/News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.
CNHI News Service

The powerful tornadoes that ripped a destructive scar across the nation's belly Friday killed at least 38 people and caused millions of dollars in damage, govenrment officials report.

The Department of Homeland Security said 19 people died in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one each in Georgia and Alabama. The agency said additional fatalities may result as cleanup crews clear the rubble from more than 85 twisters in 10 states.

Hundreds of others were injured in the biggest one-day burst of tornadoes in March in U.S. Weather Service history. They included a 2-year-old girl from Salem, Ind., who was found alive 10 miles from her home in a farm field.

The girl was taken to Kosair Children's Hospital in nearby Louisville, Ky., where officials said she was in critical condition. They did not identify the child except to say she was swept away from her family home in New Pekin, Ind.

Thousands of homes and businesses in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio were without power and water service in the aftermath of the tornadoes, the second round of twisters to strike the nation's midsection this week. Thirteen people were killed Tuesday in a series of tornadoes that struck Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, including six deaths in Harrisburg, Ill.

Government officials said property damage would run into the millions,and maybe even beyond, based on the double dose of twisters. Affected regions were declared federal disaster areas, making them eligible for recovery grants.

Friday's twisters mostly hammered small rural towns from Alabama to Ohio. Deaths were reported in ones and twos here and there, though four people -- a couple in their 60s and their 4-year-old great-grandchild -- died in Chelsea, Ind. The child's mother survived.

State troopers and national guardsmen were dispatched to the hardest hit areas by governors in Kentucky and Indiana to help with the recovery and assure public safety.

Weather Service officials said Friday's burst of tornadoes was a rare happening spawned by a combination of a cold front moving south clashing with high humidity and warm temperatures moving north.

"We knew it was going to be bad when they met," said Angie Lese, a Weather Service meteorologist in Louisville. "All the ingredients were there for a significant outbreak."

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels spent Saturday viewing destruction in Henryville, Marysville and other hard-hit communities along his state's border with Kentucky.

"This is about as serious as I've seen," he said. "But we will recover. We have pretty resilient people in this state."

The tornado pathways in the affected states were littered with everything from uprooted trees to sheet metal and insulation to crushed police cars and, in one place, a fire hydrant, making travel difficult.

An overturned car sat on top of a pile of wood planks and rumpled metal outside City Hall in West Liberty, Ky. The storm had tossed two white police cruisers into the brick building.

At least five people died in Morgan County, where the town is located in northeast Kentucky.

The Rev. Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church recalled how he and four others huddled together in a cubby hole in the basement as the church collapsed in the storm.

“We’re thankful to God,” he said. “It was a miracle that the five of us survived.”

A fast-moving twister destroyed Henryville's junior and senior high schools and elementary school at 3 p.m. Friday. But no one died or was injured even though some of the 600 students and staff were in the buildings at the time.

"It was awful, devastating," said Superintendent Monty Schneider. "But, thank God, no students or others died or were injured."

Ernie and Brenda Hall of Henryville said they watched the severe weather reports on television, then went out on the front porch to view an approaching tornado.

“We stood here and watched it coming over the hill and you could just see the debris swirling,” Ernie Hall said.

“You can see it on TV, but that’s nothing compared to seeing it in real life,” added his wife.

The Halls said they ran back into the house, dropped to the floor in an interior hallway and pulled a mattress tightly over themselves.

Then the tornado hit.

“There was junk falling off the walls down on our head; you could feel the wind just sucking at you,” Ernie Hall said. “You could just hear it, I mean it was terrible. About a minute, a minute-and-a-half later it was all over with."


Details for this story were provided by the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville, Ind., and the U.S. Weather Service.

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