EVANSVILLE — First came the roar, then the screams.
Ryan Belwood and his girlfriend awoke early Sunday to the roar of the tornado and scrambled for cover in a bathtub. Minutes later, they emerged to a landscape of destruction: Splintered wood, metal siding and tree limbs were strewn everywhere, and dozens of mobile homes had been crushed by the deadliest tornado to hit Indiana since 1974.
“All you could hear were people screaming, ‘Help me, help me,”’ said Belwood, 26.
The tornado that tore across western Kentucky and southwestern Indiana around 2 a.m. Sunday killed at least 22 people as it hit the mobile home park and cut a 15- to 20-mile path across the region, destroying trailers and houses as many residents slept through the storm warnings.
“It was just a real loud roar. It didn’t seem like it lasted over 45 seconds to a minute, then it was calm again,” said Steve Gaiser, who lives near the hard-hit Eastbrook Mobile Home Park.
At least 17 people were killed in the park, Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth said. More people were believed to be trapped in the debris, and rescuers raced to find survivors and recover the bodies of the dead.
Five people were confirmed dead in neighboring Warrick County, east of Evansville, where the Ohio River city of Newburgh was hit.
Sheriff Marvin Heilman said the victims included a woman who was eight months’ pregnant, her husband and a young child in the rural town of Degonia Springs. A teenage girl was also killed near Boonville, he said. No deaths were immediately reported in Kentucky.
The storm reduced homes to splinters and scattered debris across the countryside, injuring at least 200 people. Entire blocks of buildings were reduced to rubble, and thousands of homes were still without power late Sunday afternoon.
Vanderburgh County sheriff’s deputy Eric Williams said emergency sirens sounded twice around 2 a.m. in Evansville, but many residents of the mobile home park said they didn’t hear the warnings.
Rescuers who arrived at the mobile home park shortly after the tornado hit reported seeing children wandering in the debris, looking for their parents, and parents searching for missing children. Children’s bicycles and other toys were strewn amid mattresses, chairs and insulation.
Large cranes and forklifts moved crushed mobile homes and vehicles Sunday afternoon as rescuers dug through the debris in a search for survivors.
One young child was found alive in a ditch Sunday afternoon. The youngster had been trapped beneath debris there for about 12 hours and was taken to a hospital, said Dale Naylor, assistant chief of Knight Township Volunteer Fire Department.
The tornado developed in a line of thunderstorms that rolled rapidly eastward across the Ohio Valley. The National Weather Service had posted storm warnings for sections of northern Ohio. Tornado warnings were issued early Sunday for parts Kentucky and Indiana.
Ryan Presley, a weather service meteorologist in Paducah, Ky., said a single tornado touched down near Smith Mills in western Kentucky, jumped the river and cut a 15- to 20-mile swath through Indiana’s Vanderburgh and Warrick counties.
The tornado appeared to be at least an F3 on the Fujita scale, which ranges from F0, the weakest, to F5, the strongest. An F3 has winds ranging from 158 mph to 206 mph, and the tornado that hit on Sunday may have been even stronger, Presley said.
Gov. Mitch Daniels toured the area and the storm had left “incredible devastation next to apparently unscathed properties.”
In the mobile home park, about 100 of the roughly 350 homes were destroyed and 125 others were damaged, Indiana homeland security spokeswoman Pam Bright said.
She said it was the deadliest tornado in Indiana since April 3, 1974, when an outbreak of several tornadoes killed 47 people and destroyed 2,069 homes.
The Ellis Park racetrack, between Evansville and Henderson, Ky., had significant damage to barns, the grandstand and other buildings, and some workers were injured, said Paul Kuerzi, the track’s vice president and general manager.
“It appears at this point that three horses have died from injuries suffered in storm. It’s too early to know if any other horses were injured,” Kuerzi said. About 150 horses in training were stabled there.
EVANSVILLE — First came the roar, then the screams.
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