MORE than 30 people died after a spate of tornadoes devastated several small towns and cut off rural communities across America’s Midwest.
Massive thunderstorms, predicted by US weather forecasters for days, threw off dozens of tornadoes, hitting the states of Kentucky and Indiana particularly hard. Twisters that crushed entire housing blocks, knocked out telephone lines, ripped power lines from broken poles and overturned cars, school buses and tractor trailers on highways choked with debris.
So far at least 32 people have died, but both the scale of the devastation and the extent of the storms made an immediate assessment of the resulting havoc all but impossible.
In Kentucky, the National Guard and state police headed out to search wreckage for an unknown number of missing people. In Indiana, authorities searched unlit country roads connecting rural communities that officials said “were completely gone”.
Susie Renner, 54, said she saw two tornadoes barrelling down on the town of Henryville, Indiana, within minutes of each other. The first brown, the second was black, indicating the latter contained more debris.
“I’m a storm chaser,” Renner said, “and I have never been this frightened before.”
Friday’s 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 Centre had said the day would be one of a handful this year that warranted its highest risk level.
A total of 14 people were reported killed in Indiana. Tony Williams, owner of the general store in the town of Chelsea, said a child and mother were huddled in a basement when the storm hit and sucked the four-year-old out of her mother’s hands. The mother survived, but her 70-year-old grandparents, who were upstairs, both died.
Two people also died further north in the town of Holton, where it appeared a tornado cut a diagonal swathe down the town’s tiny main road, demolishing a cinderblock petrol station in one spot and leaving a tiny white church intact down the road. Officials also confirmed seven more deaths there.
The death toll rose to at least 14 in Kentucky.
State police in Morehead said three people died in West Liberty and at least 75 were injured.
In West Liberty, Stephen Burton heard the twister coming and pulled his 23-year-old daughter to safety just before it destroyed the upper floor of their home.
“I just held on to her and I felt like I was getting sand-blasted on my back,” Burton said.