Ottawa Citizen

Dozens killed as twisters hit Midwest

Tornadoes tear through 4 states, leaving at least 35 dead, but there are remarkable stories of survival and escape,

- writes PHILIP SHERWELL

Residents of several towns and cities in the United States are trying to rebuild their shattered lives,

It took just 30 seconds to wipe Marysville off the map. When a swarm of killer tornadoes raked across the American heartlands, this small, southern Indiana town of 1,900 people took a direct hit.

Clapboard homes crumbled, downed electricit­y poles and uprooted trees blocked roads and battered vehicles were tossed into the ruins. “Marysville is completely gone,” said Major Chuck Adams, the county sheriff.

As dawn broke Saturday, the flattened town resembled a battle zone. Yet remarkably, the initial casualty count in the town was limited to five people, injured by flying debris.

Others were not so lucky, as the death toll reached 35 across Indiana. Kentucky, Ohio and Alabama, with hundreds injured.

The tally was expected to rise as rescue workers scoured rubble for the trapped and missing, and doctors treated life-threatenin­g injuries in hospitals in several counties.

In all, 95 tornadoes swept through a belt of states across the South and Midwest as a powerful storm system stretched from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes in the North. They left behind apocalypti­c scenes.

“The gates of hell opened up,” said an emergency services call dispatcher. And an Indiana state trooper shook his head in disbelief as he surveyed the carnage.

“It’s like they dropped a huge nuclear bomb and everything’s gone,” he said.

A few miles from Marysville, whole neighbourh­oods in Henryville were also obliterate­d. But amid the destructio­n in the hometown of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders, there were also remarkable stories of survival and escape.

A school bus was picked up, swept hundreds of feet and embedded into a brick restaurant wall just moments after the driver had dropped off 11 children to take shelter when she realized a tornado was bearing down on them.

They all emerged unscathed from a school office, even though the storm sheared off the roof and crushed much of the building.

Volunteers pushed shopping carts full of food and bottled water down littered streets, handing supplies to anyone in need. Few recognizab­le structures remained.

“It’s all gone,” said Andy Bell, who was guarding a friend’s demolished garage. “It was beautiful,” he said, looking around at the town of about 2,000. “And now it’s just gone.”

Susie Renner, 54, said she saw two tornadoes barrelling down on Henryville within minutes of each other. The first was turned brown by debris that filled it; the second was a terrifying black.

“I’m a storm chaser,” Renner said, “and I have never been this frightened before.”

After the tornado passed, hail the size of baseballs and driven by storm-force winds rattled buildings like gunfire, smashing holes in walls and shattering windows.

In Chelsea, east of Henryville, Steve Kloepfer watched on television as the storms tore across the state.

“I saw it was getting close, so I walked down the driveway and saw it coming through the woods,” he said.

Kloepfer jumped into his pickup truck just before a tornado struck and drove about a mile out of town to “let it blow through.” But he returned to a tragic discovery.

His aunt and uncle, Terry and Carol Jackson, and their four-yearold grandchild were missing after their home was smashed to pieces. Their bodies were found later in a nearby field.

His own home was also destroyed. He can rebuild that, he said, but he cannot recover his lost relatives.

It was the second killer swarm to strike the region in just two days. Another 13 people were killed in the first band of storms.

Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor, who toured the worst-hit area yesterday, said that early-warning systems meant the death toll was not higher. Nonetheles­s, he added: “We are no match for Mother Nature at her worst.”

Of the 35 victims, 14 were in Indiana, 17 in Kentucky, three in Ohio and one in Alabama. Large swaths of the South were still battered by heavy rain yesterday, and fresh tornado warnings were issued in Georgia and Florida.

Harold Brooks, a research meteorolog­ist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma, said that the tornado swarm was caused by a warm, moist and unseasonab­le air mass in the south that was clashing with colder air to the north.

Violent rotations inside the thundersto­rms produced wind funnels and they in turn became tornadoes when they touched down.

In Cleveland, Tennessee, Blaine Lawson and his wife, Billie, were watching the weather when the power went out. Just as they began to seek shelter, strong winds ripped the roof off their home.

“It just hit all at once,” said Blaine, 76. “Didn’t have no warning, really. The roof, insulation and everything started coming down on us. It just happened so fast that I didn’t know what to do. I was going to head to the closet but there was just no way. It just got us.”

But even as reports of death and destructio­n mounted, there was also a moment of hope. A two-yearold girl was found alive, alone and injured in a field in Salem, about 30 kilometres south of Henryville.

She was airlifted to a hospital. Her condition was listed as critical but doctors hoped that she would pull through.

 ??  ??
 ?? AARON BERNSTEIN, REUTERS ?? Martha Righthouse, right, is embraced by her neighbour Debbie Gilbert near the ruins of her home in Marysville, Indiana, on Saturday. The town, population 1,900, was completely destroyed as the latest in a series of powerful tornadoes raked across four...
AARON BERNSTEIN, REUTERS Martha Righthouse, right, is embraced by her neighbour Debbie Gilbert near the ruins of her home in Marysville, Indiana, on Saturday. The town, population 1,900, was completely destroyed as the latest in a series of powerful tornadoes raked across four...
 ?? SCOTT OLSON, GETTY IMAGES ?? In Henryville, Indiana, cupcakes baked for a 12-year-old’s birthday party remain on the counter where they were left to cool moments before a tornado destroyed the home.
SCOTT OLSON, GETTY IMAGES In Henryville, Indiana, cupcakes baked for a 12-year-old’s birthday party remain on the counter where they were left to cool moments before a tornado destroyed the home.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada