West Liberty: Rescue workers with search dogs trudged through the hills of Kentucky, and emergency crews in several states combed through wrecked homes in a desperate search on Saturday for survivors of tornadoes that killed dozens of people in the US midwest and south.
But amid the flattened homes, gutted churches and crunched up cars, startling stories of survival emerged, including that of a 2-year-old girl found alone but alive in a field near her Indiana home after her family was killed, a couple who were hiding in a restaurant basement when a school bus crashed through the wall, and a pastor nearly buried in his church`s basement.
The storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed at least 38 people in five states - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, where Governor John Kasich proclaimed an emergency. President Barack Obama offered Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance as state troopers, the National Guard and rescue teams made their way through counties cut off by debris-littered roads and toppled 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.
No building was left untouched in West Liberty, a small eastern Kentucky farming town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Two white police cruisers had been picked up and tossed into city hall, and few structures were recognizable.
The Rev Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church recalled huddling with four others in a little cubby hole in the basement as the church collapsed in the storm.
The pastor and his wife had just returned to the parsonage from a trip to a city about an hour away when he turned on the TV and saw that the storm was coming. Jett yelled to his wife that they needed to take shelter in the basement of the church next door. They were joined by two congregants who were cleaning the church and a neighbor. As they ran for the basement stairs, they could see the funnel cloud approaching.
The last one down was Jett`s wife, Jeanene.
"I just heard this terrific noise,`` she said. ``The windows were blowing out as I came down the stairs.``
The building collapsed, but they were able to get out through a basement door. They escaped with only bumps and bruises.
``We`re thankful to God,`` Jett said. ``It was a miracle that the five of us survived.``
A 2-year-old girl found alone in a field in southern Indiana was the sole survivor of her immediate family, said Cis Gruebbel, a spokeswoman for Kosair Children`s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. Gruebbel said the girl`s mother, father, 2-month-old sister and 3-year-old brother all died Friday when the storms devastated southern Indiana.
Gruebbel said the toddler is in critical condition. She would not identify the child and said she could not provide details on the child`s ordeal. She said extended family members are at the hospital with the child.
Melissa Richardson, a spokeswoman for the hospital in Salem, Indiana, where the child was first taken, said the child`s family is from New Pekin, Indiana, and she was found in a field near her home.
About 20 miles (30 kilometers) east, a twister demolished Henryville, Indiana, 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 (meters) 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.
However, the storm still didn`t measure up to the one on April 27, when tornadoes killed more than 240 people in Alabama. On that day, 688 tornado warnings and 757 severe thunderstorm warnings were issued from Texas to New York, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the storm prediction center.
The storms have been carrying strong winds that change direction and increase in speed as they rise in the atmosphere, creating a spin, said Corey Mead, a storm prediction center meteorologist. The tornadoes develop when cold air in the storm system moving east from the Mississippi River Valley hits warm air coming north from the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
More severe storms were expected Saturday across parts of southern Georgia and northern Florida. Friday`s killed 19 people in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia.