Tornadoes Slam States

Powerful twisters tear through the South and Midwest

Mar 05, 2012 | By Stephanie Kraus
SCOTT OLSON—GETTY IMAGES

Massive thunderstorms and tornadoes swept through five states on Friday, March 2, killing at least 38 people. The extreme weather affected parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. Strong twisters tossed cars, school buses and tractor-trailers onto roads. Kentucky and Indiana were the hardest hit. The storm “moved like a lawnmower through some of the most beautiful countryside... that we have,” Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said on Sunday morning.

Start of the Season

Tornadoes are nature’s most powerful storms. They can produce destructive winds of more than 300 miles per hour. May is usually the height of tornado season. But the early start of this year’s twister season has put more than 30 million people at high risk.

For residents and emergency workers in the south, tornado preparation and cleanup is part of a sadly familiar routine. Last year was the deadliest for tornadoes since 1953 and experts are still not sure why. In April, tornadoes killed about 250 people in Alabama alone.

Experts still aren’t sure how many tornadoes were involved in Friday’s destruction. By 10 p.m., the weather service had issued 269 tornado warnings. “Maybe five times a year we issue what is kind of the highest risk level for us,” Storm Prediction Center forecaster Corey Mead said. “This is one of those days.”

According to the National Weather Service, one of the tornadoes that slammed Henryville, Kentucky, packed 175 mile per hour winds. It was an EF-4, the second-highest rating on the Fujita scale, which measures a tornado’s force.  The nearby town of Maryville, Indiana, was completely leveled.

Clean-Up Efforts

Volunteers collect food and other items for Indiana residents affected by the severe weather.
NAM Y. HUH—AP
Volunteers collect food and other items for Indiana residents affected by the severe weather.

About 8,000 people in Indiana lost power after the tornadoes hit. The Indiana National Guard was immediately sent to the damaged towns to assist with rescue and cleanup. About 2,700 people in Indiana remain without power.

In Kentucky, workers are battling cold weather as they try to get electricity back to 19,000 people who lost power. Rescue crews in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio are also working to replace downed poles and fix electrical lines. On Friday, officials had trouble getting to some of the most damaged areas. “The power is out, phones are out, roads are blocked and now it’s dark, which complicates things,” Kentucky Emergency spokesman Buddy Rogers said.

On Monday, some of the hardest-hit areas had to deal with two to four inches of snow. The conditions have slowed the cleanup process. In Kentucky and Indiana, rescue trucks must deal with slippery roads and sharp objects hidden under the snow.

After the storms, Governor Daniels spoke to residents about rebuilding in front of a demolished Henryville High School. “We love you, and we’re with you,” he said. “We're going to do everything we can to get you back on your feet in business, in your homes, and bear with us."