November 6, 2005

Indiana tornado kills 23, injures at least 220

NEWBURGH, Indiana (Reuters) - A powerful tornado tore
through southern Indiana and parts of Kentucky early on Sunday,
killing at least 23 people and injuring more than 200, many
caught sleeping when the twister hit, officials said.

At least five people were confirmed dead in Warrick County
and at least 18 were killed in Vanderburgh County, according to
county officials.

Three area hospitals reported treating more than 220
people. At St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville, the closest
hospital to the destruction, at least 30 were admitted with
serious injuries, and twelve people were in critical condition.
Deaconess Hospital in Evansville had at least 15 people in
critical condition, officials there said.

"We've had severe damage," said Newburgh Assistant Fire
Chief Chad Bennett. "Homes were totally devastated. There are a
lot of people thankful to be alive today."

Officials said the death toll would likely climb as rescue
workers picked through rubble in house-to-house searches and
scoured farm lands. About 130 Indiana National Guard troops
were called in to assist in recovery efforts and to help
provide security and clean up debris.

At least two people were found dead in a soybean field in
Warrick County, according to the Newburgh fire department.

The Eastbrooke mobile home park in Evansville was one of
the places hardest hit when the storm struck well before dawn.
Many homes there were reduced to twisted piles of metal that
lay mixed with the remains of downed trees, smashed cars, and
other debris.

In one trailer home, rescue workers found a young mother
alive, but her husband and daughter dead and her two-year-old
missing, said Eric Williams, chief deputy of the sheriff's
department in Vanderburgh County.

Search teams at the trailer park were cheered briefly when
they happened across a young child alive in a ditch tightly
entangled in shards of metal and other debris, Williams said.
The child was flown to a nearby hospital but neither the
child's identity nor condition were immediately known.

An apartment complex in nearby Warrick County was also hit
hard, with the top floors ripped off, said Vanderburgh County
Sheriff's office spokesman Lt. John Strange.


"It is pretty widespread damage," he said.

In Henderson County, Kentucky, the Ellis Park racetrack
suffered major damage. The grandstand was ripped away, several
barns were damaged and at least three horses were killed.

Some 25,000 people were left without power because of the
storm, which government weather officials said was the worst to
hit the state in 17 years.

The funnel cloud hit at about 2 a.m. local time (0800 GMT),
with little notice, touching down in northern Kentucky, then
skipping across the Ohio River into southern Indiana. Alarm
sirens sounded only about 10 minutes before the twister hit.

"Most people were asleep. They probably didn't hear the
sirens," Bennett said.

That was the case for Melissa Walls and her family, who
were in their bedrooms, not their basement, when the tornado
took the roof off their single-story brick house in Newburgh.

"I heard a noise and I thought it was hail so I ran into my
son's room. He's 14 months. ... He had a cut on his head and
his crib was full of bricks and debris," said Walls. "I looked
up and my roof was gone."

Walls was one of scores of dazed survivors wandering
through battered neighborhoods on Sunday searching for clothing
and other personal items to salvage from the wreckage.

Sunday's tornado left a path of destruction about 20 miles

long and three-quarters of a mile wide from northern
Kentucky across southern Indiana, officials said.

Such severe tornadoes are rare in the U.S. Midwest in
November, according to the National Storm Prediction Center.
Peak tornado season is generally from April through June.

Through September, killer tornadoes were reported in
Georgia, Arkansas, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Mississippi this
year, with a total of 10 dead in those storms.

On average, tornadoes kill about 70 people annually in the
United States. The single deadliest tornado in U.S. history
killed 689 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana in March
1925, according to the storm prediction center.