The Kentucky tornadoes have left stories from survivors across the South and Midweste: schoolchildren took cover under desks, people hunkered down in a church basement or hid out in a bank vault. One family even piled on top of one another for protection.
One story had yet to be told. A toddler was found alive and alone in a field near her Indiana home. Her four immediate family members were among at least 38 people killed by tornadoes that scarred communities scattered across hundreds of miles of the nation’s midsection from Alabama to Indiana.
In Kentucky farming country, people talked about friends and family members who were killed in the most powerful storms to hit the eastern part of the state in nearly a quarter-century. Tracy Pitman said she was at home with her husband and 4-year-old grandson when a tornado with winds of up to 130 mph hit.
“I grabbed my baby and I said, ‘Baby, lay down’ and I got on top of him and my husband got on top of me and it was already happening, just flipping us over and over and over,” said Pitman, of East Bernstadt, Ky., a small town 70 miles south of Lexington.
As the accounts were passed around, emergency officials trudged with search dogs past knocked-down cellphone towers and ruined homes looking for survivors in rural Kentucky and Indiana, marking searched roads and homes with orange paint. President Barack Obama offered federal assistance.
The worst damage appeared centered in some hard-hit 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.”
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. They were the latest in a string of severe-weather episodes that have ravaged the heartland in the past year.
Friday’s violent storms touched down in at least a dozen states, killing 19 people in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia.