At least 16 people were killed in Southern Indiana and Kentucky after a series of fierce storms carved a path through the Midwest on Friday afternoon.
The National Weather Service estimated there could have been 10 or more tornado touchdowns in the two states.
Kentucky declared a state of emergency, and Indiana officials said they were discussing that late Friday night.
As nightfall settled, crews were left to deal with the search for victims and begin the cleanup.
In the town of Chelsea in Jefferson County, Ind., first responders found a 4-year-old boy and his great-grandparents lying on the ground 50 feet from where the elderly couple’s home was blown off its foundation and thrown more than 100 feet away. All three died of multiple blunt force injuries, according to David Bell the county’s Emergency Management director.
A man who lived nearby on Jackson Road also was killed when the storm slammed into his residence, Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace said.
The victims’ names were being withheld pending notification of relatives, Wallace said.
“All of this happened in less than 30 seconds,” said Cory Thomas, a Hanover volunteer firefighter, who was sitting in a firetruck watching and videotaping the funnel cloud as it moved from the north to the intersections of Ind. 62 and Jackson Road.
Michelle and Daniel Cartwright, whose parents lived at the intersection, had rushed from their home to his parents’ house to help his grandmother during the storm. They rushed her to the basement and heard a tremendous roar as the storm bore down on the house, Michelle Cartwright said.
“It’s undescribable. It sounded like the house was collapsing,” she said. “I thought I was gone. The windows shattered. Dust was flying everywhere.”
In Washington County, four people were found dead in a structure along Old Pekin Road , according to Sheriff Claude Combs. The victims were a family — two adults, a child and a baby, he said.
At least three children were taken to Kosair Children’s Hospital with storm-related injuries. A 2-year-old girl was flown to the hospital after being found in a field in Washington County, near Salem, said Cis Gruebbel, Kosair’s chief nursing officer.
The girl’s parents were eventually located and reunited with their daughter at the hospital. Gruebbel would not describe the girl’s injuries or her condition.
Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden confirmed one storm-related death in the Henryville area. Crews were still searching homes on the numerous country roads in the area. Homes were being marked with check marks to indicate they had been searched.
The Henryville school complex suffered extensive damage as children were supposed to be dismissed from school. Teachers and staff kept many inside in bathrooms, hoping to protect them from the storm.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said no students were reported missing or injured.
Emergency workers and residents streamed by the school complex in the early afternoon, many trying to find loved ones who had been at the school when the storm hit.
The school’s roof had been torn off, segments of a wall knocked down and windows were blown out. At least half a dozen vehicles in the school’s parking lot had been crushed by falling debris.
Students were taken to the local community center to be reunited with families. State police said those looking for adult family members could go to the St. Francis Catholic Church, at Ind. 160 and U.S. 31. Those with minor injuries were being treated at the church basement.
The storm cut a wide swath from the high school across Henryville, destroying homes and businesses in its path. Hail described as the size of softballs also shattered automobile windows across the town. Hail driven by storm winds riddled the sides of several buildings like gunfire, leaving holes in siding and breaking windows.
In Marysville, 10 miles north of Charlestown along Ind. 3, most of the several dozen homes that make up the town were destroyed.
The Marysville Water Tower stood in stark contrast to the flattened structures around it. In some cases, bare concrete slabs were the only sign that a home had existed.
James Hilton, who took cover in the Marysville hardware store, rushed over to find his father, also named James, trapped inside his badly damaged home. “I went over there and pulled him out,” he said. Once free, his father began complaining of chest pains and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Leon Gilbert counted himself as one of the more fortunate residents as he arrived home from work to find the back wall of his home missing and the roof partially collapsed.
“It’s just a bad deal … but the main thing is everybody’s alive,” Gilbert said.
In New Pekin, Kendall Lewellyn huddled with his father and 7-year-old daughter, Jenessa, as a tornado roared through his parent’s home off Ind. 60. “She held onto the dog, I held onto her and my dad was right next to us,” he described.
The tornado devastated the entire neighborhood, including their one-story brick home and many mobile and manufactured homes. An ATV lay atop a couch, car tires hung from a tree and belongings were strewn throughout the area.
Lewellyn said the tornado “sounded like the roar of a freight train.”
His daughter, Janessa, 7, said she was scared and stayed next to her father. “I felt something hit my back,” she said.
Seven deaths were reported in Kentucky, with five confirmed by the state as of 9 p.m.
Four people died in Menifee County and one in Kenton County, according to the state. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported two other deaths in Kenton.
Gov. Steve Beshear declared a statewide emergency after officials confirmed that at least three tornadoes touched down across multiple counties, demolishing a fire station, damaging buildings and causing minor injuries but no fatalities.
One apparently hard-hit area was West Liberty, in Morgan County. Kentucky dispatched 50 National Guard troops and 12 civilian rescuers to the city after state officials were unable to reach emergency management officials there, said Chuck Wolfe, a Kentucky state government spokesman.
Wolfe said there have been unconfirmed reports of damage and casualties in Morgan County.
“It’s looking pretty bad in West Liberty,” Wolfe said.
Beshear’s declaration allows him to deploy state assistance, including the Kentucky National Guard, to affected counties without delays.
Buddy Rogers, spokesman for Kentucky Emergency Management, said the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado that touched down in Trimble County and stayed on the ground into neighboring Carroll County. That storm destroyed the Milton Fire Station No. 2, about 10 miles west of Bedford, said Kentucky State Police Trooper Brad Arterburn.
A mobile home was overturned and several barns were toppled in the county, Arterburn said. The only injuries reported were cuts and bruises, he said.
The other confirmed tornados were in Muhlenberg and Henderson counties in Western Kentucky, Rogers said. Kentucky State Police also reported a tornado in Warren County, near Bowling Green, but that one had not been confirmed Friday evening.
Beshear said there were 23,000 storm-related power outages across the state.
Schools shut down early, high school basketball games were postponed and Churchill Downs closed its off-track betting operations.
The winds and rain tore the roof of a gymnasium at North Hopkins High School near Madisonville in Western Kentucky. Hopkins County Emergency Management Director Frank Wright said the building was empty because school officials, after conferring with the National Weather Service, dismissed classes at 11:30 a.m. CST.
He said the winds and rain also caused the roof of an empty skating rink to collapse onto the skate floor.
Rogers said there were two reports of injuries in Trimble County, one reported injury in Union County in Western Kentucky and buildings were damaged in Grant and Pendleton counties in Northern Kentucky. Rescue teams were searching the debris of those buildings, Rogers said.
The storm also temporarily closed a major hub for Delta Air Lines after blowing debris on the runways. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport spokeswoman Barb Schempf says one of three runways reopened Friday evening.
“It was limbs from trees, that sort of thing,” she said.
Schempf said officials were working as quickly as possible to get the other two runways open.
She said flights were delayed, while others were canceled and suggested that anyone flying check with their airline before going to the airport.