At Least 26 Dead as Tornadoes Slam South, Midwest

By ABC News

Mar 2, 2012 3:20pm

ap alabama tornado jef 120302 wblog At Least 26 Dead as Tornadoes Slam South, Midwest

ABC News’ Michael S. James, Ashley Jennings, Whitney Lloyd and Matthew Rosenbaum report:

More severe weather Friday left at least 26 people dead in three states, leveled homes across the South and Midwest, tore roofs off schools and led to a state of emergency declaration in Kentucky.

It was the second time in days that apparent tornadoes dealt death to the nation’s middle. Earlier this week, wild weather killed 13 people across seven states.

This time, Indiana seemed to take the deadliest blow, according to state officials, with at least 13 weather-related deaths confirmed in the state on Friday – four in Jefferson County, four in Washington County, three in Scott County and two in Ripley County.

At least 11 more people died in Kentucky, according to state police - and Gov. Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency before the storms even cleared the state.

At least two more people were reported dead near Felicity, Ohio, in Clermont County.

 

Weather-related damage or injuries also were reported in Alabama, where a maximum-security prison was damaged and several people were reported injured, and in Tennessee, where dozens were reported injured in the state’s southeast and at least 12 counties had reports of tornado touchdowns. Mississippi reported less-extensive damage.

Georgia, West Virginia and Virginia were among other states threatened by the moving storms.

By early evening local time, the disturbances had resulted in at least 70 tornado reports in seven states today. Some of the reports may have been multiple people reporting the same incidents, not necessarily confirmed as tornadoes.

Earlier, National Weather Service coordinator Bill Whitlock told The Associated Press that the agency was tracking “extreme damage.”

Clark County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Chuck Adams described the town of Marysville, Ind., as “completely gone.” The town of Henryville, Ind., was hit by two storms in rapid succession, leaving people scrambling for cover in between them.

In Henryville, the local high school attended by approximately 400 students was safely evacuated, though severely damaged with a roof partially torn off.

“I looked up and I just seen debris everywhere,” said Henryville resident Brandy Barton. “And next thing I knew I thought it was a dream, just couldn’t be real.”

Patty Ballard of Critterden, Ky., described enduring an apparent tornado with her granddaughter as “just like a horror movie.”

“I’m never afraid of storms,” she said. “But I have changed my whole outlook now. I love storms. I’ve never been afraid. But when you got your granddaughter by the hand, and you’ve been taken off your feet by the storm, and you’re trying to get her into a safe place and you can’t get there fast enough, it’s just like a bad dream.”

The storms hit a maximum-security prison outside of Huntsville, Ala., blowing down roughly 1,000 feet of fence around the prison and causing damage to the roof of two dormitories.  Prison officials reported that the prison, which houses roughly 2,100 inmates was secure and no inmates escaped.

In Harvest, Ala., James and Judy Harvest lost their home to apparent tornadoes for the second time in less than a year. 

“I just think having to go through everything again,” Judy Harvest said.

 

Schools across the Midwest and South closed early in response to forecasts of further severe weather in the areas, many of which were still recovering from the tornadoes earlier this week.

Click here to view photos of the tornado damage so far.

 

According to Russell Schneider, director of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., ”The risk to property and people is substantial on a widespread outbreak of this variety.”

Schneider told ABC News this afternoon that the storm system would be moving quickly, “up to 50 to 60 miles an hour,” leading to rapid changes in severe weather conditions. Schneider advised people who might be in the storm’s path to “monitor the situation very carefully.”

“Now is the time to identify safe shelter, such as a basement or an interior room on the lowest floor in a sturdy building, for when threatening weather approaches and when a warning is issued,” said Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.  “Also, be sure to have a NOAA weather radio along with fresh batteries to ensure immediate awareness of this serious weather situation.”

Thirty-seven million people were in the high or moderate risk zones for severe weather today. For the 10 million people in the high-risk area,  there’s a 3 in 10 chance a tornado will be within 25 miles of them today.

ABC News’ Ginger Zee, Steve Osunsami, Andreena Narayan, Candace Smith, Jason Volack and Ben Forer contributed to this report.

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