Sunday, March 4, 2012

U.S. Storm Updates: Death Toll on the Rise as Rescue Work Continues under Blue Sky

WEST LIBERTY, Ky. – With the emergence of clear blue sky on Saturday the search and rescue operation has been speeded up in the storm-torn areas after the deadly storm and tornadoes whipped across the South and Midwest.

Death Toll on the Rise as Rescue Work Continues under Blue Sky
Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared an emergency Saturday while President Barack Obama offered federal assistance in the ravaged states.

The deadly storms killed at least 38 in five states but few miraculous survivors also come in spotlight like but a 2-year-old girl was somehow found alive and alone in a field near her Indiana home. Her family is though among the victims of the disaster.  

A lot of such stories were heard on Saturday as emergency officials traipsed with search dogs past destroyed cell-phone towers and ravaged homes looking for survivors in rural Kentucky and Indiana, marking searched roads and homes with orange paint. 

Friday’s fierce 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 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.

“We stood in the parking lot and watched it coming,” said David Ison, who raced into a bank vault with nine others to seek safety. “By the time it hit, it was like a whiteout.”

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.

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.

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