Rescuers Search for Survivors

11-7-05 - Rescuers scaled heaps of rubble to listen for survivors trapped in debris left by a tornado that ripped through communities in Indiana and Kentucky, killing 22 people.

The tornado, the deadliest to hit Indiana since 1974, struck a horse racing track near Henderson, Ky., then crossed into Indiana, triggering emergency sirens that many people fast asleep early Sunday did not hear.

At least 17 people, including three children, died at a mobile home park in Vanderburgh County and five others died in neighboring Warrick County, east of Evansville. More than 100 people were taken to hospitals.

"They were in trailer homes, homes that were just torn apart by the storm," Deputy Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves said. "It's just terrible."

As darkness fell Sunday night, rescuers set up lights to continue searching Eastbrook Mobile Home Park. They roamed what had been yards or basements, holding flashlights and lifting debris to make sure no one was underneath. They searched for several hours after dark before breaking off for the night.

Cranes lifted toppled mobile homes, and forklifts moved smashed cars into organized rows. Other heavy equipment rumbled through the debris as night fell and the air became crisp and cool.

All the dead were in Indiana. The youngest victim was a 2-year-old boy who was killed along with his 61-year-old grandmother, the coroner's office said.

Tim Martin, 42, said he and his parents were awakened by the wind, which lifted their mobile home and moved it halfway into the neighbor's yard.

They escaped unharmed, but he said they heard several neighbors calling for help. A neighboring mobile home was overturned, he said, and another appeared to have been destroyed.

"All I could see was debris," he said. "I thought it was a bad dream."

White vinyl siding was blown to a farmer's field next to the mobile home park and to the tree tops in the Angel Mounds State Historic Site across the street. Yellow insulation hung from branches like Spanish moss.

Although the possibility of finding survivors seemed to diminish as the day wore on, there were glimmers of hope. Firefighters were elated to find a child trapped, but alive, beneath part of a mobile home.

"That's what it's all about," said Perry Township fire Chief Jerry Bulger, holding back tears as he spoke of the child's rescue.

Indiana officials said the sirens sounded twice, but many in the mobile home park said they did not hear them. Emergency officials say the tornado warning sirens are loud enough to warn people who are outside but might not reach those tucked in bed.

"They're not really designed to wake people up in the middle of the night," said John Buckman, fire chief of German Township Fire Department in Vanderburgh County.

National Guard troops were called in to help with search-and-recovery efforts. Gov. Mitch Daniels toured Vanderburgh and Warrick counties Sunday to survey the damage.

Indiana homeland security spokeswoman Pam Bright said the tornado was the deadliest in Indiana since April 3, 1974, when tornadoes killed 47 people. Those storms were part of one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history, which killed more than 300 in the South and Midwest and devastated Xenia, Ohio.

In western Kentucky, the tornado ripped through Ellis Park race track, killing three horses and destroying large sections of the grandstand. Northern Crittenden county and the Hart County town of Munfordville also reported damage.

"The power of mother nature is unimaginable until you see it first hand. The power of the storm, it's just amazing. I don't know any other way to put it," said Paul Kuerzi, track vice president and general manager at Ellis Park.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher surveyed the damage in Munfordville on Sunday afternoon, walking by houses where roofs were ripped off by the storm and boards were scattered about the lawn. Insulation waved in the breeze from the remnants of a house nearby that had no windows.

"It's going to be some time before the city is back up and operating normally," Fletcher said.

Six classrooms at Munfordville Elementary School have no roof and the cafeteria was damaged, said Dale Watkins, the building construction supervisor for the school district.

"It's heartbreaking," Watkins said.

Ryan Presley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the tornado appears to have been an F3 on the Fujita scale, with winds ranging from 158 mph to 206 mph. The scale ranges from F0, the weakest, to F5.

Marsha Tweedy broke into tears Sunday as she walked through the remains of the Warrick County farm house where her 28-year-old daughter, Cheryl Warren, died.

They found the roads blocked by authorities and later learned the storm had killed Warren _ a dental assistant who was eight months pregnant _ her 4-year-old son, Isaac, and her husband, Jeremy, a truck driver.

"They were a beautiful family," Tweedy said. "They didn't have much, but they enjoyed everything they had."