Storms demolish small towns in Ind., Ky.; 37 dead

By Ken Kusmer

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

Two men work to secure a tarp to cover the roof of a home along Highway 160 in Henryville, Ind., Saturday, March 3, 2012 as residents try to recover from the massive tornado touchdown Friday afternoon in the community of 2,000 in northern Clark County 20 miles north of Louisville, Ky.

Garry Jones, Associated Press

HENRYVILLE, Ind. — Emergency crews desperately search for survivors Saturday after a violent wave of Midwest and Southern storms flattened some rural communities and left behind a trail of destruction: shredded homes, downed power lines and streets littered with tossed cars.

Amid the destruction, startling stories of survival began to emerge, including that of a baby found alive in a field 10 miles from her Indiana home and a couple who were hiding in a restaurant basement when a school bus crashed through the building's wall.

The tornado outbreak, predicted by forecasters for days, killed at least 37 people in four states — Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio — but the death toll was expected to rise as state troopers, the National Guard and rescue teams made their way through counties cutoff by debris-littered roads and knocked down cellphone towers.

The landscape was littered with everything from sheet metal and insulation to crushed 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, and authorities were only letting people who lived or owned property in the town to enter.

The Rev. Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church recalled how he and five others huddled together in a little 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 baby was found alone in a field in Salem, Ind., about 10 miles north of where her family lives in New Pekin, said Melissa Richardson, spokeswoman at St. Vincent Salem Hospital, where the little girl was initially taken. The child was in critical condition Saturday at a hospital in Louisville, Ky., and authorities were still trying to figure out how she ended up in the field, Richardson said.

A tornado hit the New Pekin area Friday, but it wasn't clear whether it had picked up the child. Authorities have not identified the baby or her parents.

About 20 miles east, a twister demolished Henryville, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders. The second story of the elementary school was torn off, and wind blew out the windows and gutted the Henryville Community Presbyterian Church. Few recognizable buildings remained.

A secretary at the school said a bus left Friday afternoon with 11 children, but the driver turned back after realizing they were driving straight into the storm. The children were ushered into the nurse's station and were hiding under tables and desks when the tornado struck. None were hurt.

The school bus, which was parked in front of the school, was tossed several hundred yards into the side of a nearby restaurant.

Todd and Julie Money were hiding there, having fled their Scottsburg home, which has no basement. They were in the basement of their friend's restaurant when the tornado struck.

"Unreal. The pressure on your body, your ears pop, trees snap," Todd Money said. "When that bus hit the building, we thought it exploded."

"It was petrifying," Julie Money added. "God put us here for a reason."

Friday's tornado outbreak came two days after an earlier round of storms killed 13 people in the Midwest and South, and forecasters 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 March, a storm of its magnitude happens once a decade, meteorologists said

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