WEST LIBERTY, Ky. – Across the South and Midwest, survivors emerged Saturday to find blue sky and splinters where homes once stood, cars flung into buildings and communications crippled after dozens of tornadoes chain-sawed through a region of millions, leveling small towns along the way.
At least 38 people were killed in five states, but a 2-year-old girl was somehow found alive and alone in a field near her Indiana home. Her family did not survive. A couple that fled their home for the safety of a restaurant basement made it, even after the storms threw a school bus into their makeshift shelter.
Saturday was a day filled with such stories, told as 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, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared an emergency Saturday.
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.
In Indiana, a toddler was found alone in a field near her family’s home after a tornado hit in New Pekin. Authorities learned Saturday she is the sole survivor of her immediate family, said Cis Gruebbel, a spokeswoman for Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky.
The girl’s mother, father, 2-month-old sister and 2-year-old brother all died Friday, Gruebbel said. She is in critical condition with extended family members at the hospital, and authorities are still trying to figure out how she ended up in the field.