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Town flattened, 28 die in storms

HENRYVILLE, Ind. — Powerful storms stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes wrecked several Indiana towns and killed at least 28 people in three states Friday.

Authorities reported 14 deaths in southern Indiana, where Marysville was leveled and nearby Henryville suffered extreme damage. There were 12 deaths in Kentucky and two in Ohio.

Officials warned that the death toll could rise once search and rescue crews begin to comb through the rubble in daylight today.

It wasn't immediately clear how many people were missing.

"That's the information we have, that Marysville is no longer," U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said in an interview with CNN.

"Marysville is completely gone," Clark County sheriff's Maj. Chuck Adams said. He was unable to offer many other details about the damage.

The storms touched nearly all walks of life. A fire station was flattened in Kentucky. Roofs were ripped off schools in Indiana. A prison fence was knocked down in Alabama and scores of homes and businesses were destroyed in Tennessee.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center said the massive band of storms put 10 million people at high risk of dangerous weather.

"We knew this was coming. We were watching the weather like everyone else," said Clark County, Ind., Sheriff Danny Rodden. "This was the worst case scenario. There's no way you can prepare for something like this."

In Henryville, the scene was eerie and somewhat chaotic. Cell phones and landlines were not working. Power lines were down and cars were flipped over.

Aerial footage from a TV news helicopter flying over Henryville showed numerous wrecked houses, some with their roofs torn off and surrounded by debris.

"I'm a storm chaser," said Susie Renner of Henryville, "and I have never been this frightened before."

Andy Bell was guarding a demolished garage until his friend could get to the business to retrieve some valuable tools Friday night. He looked around at the devastation, pointing to empty lots between a Catholic church and a Marathon station about a block away.

"There were houses from the Catholic church on the corner all the way to the Marathon station. And now it's just a pile of rubble, all the way up," he said. "It's just a great . . ."

His voice trailed off, before he finished: "Wood sticks all the way up."

An Associated Press reporter in Henryville said the high school was destroyed and the second floor had been ripped off the middle school next door. Authorities said school was in session when the tornado hit, but there were only minor injuries.

Ruth Simpson of nearby Salem came to the demolished town right after the storm hit, looking for relatives that she hadn't been able to find.

"I can't find them," she said, starting to cry.

The outbreak of storms caused problems in Alabama and Tennessee, where dozens of houses were damaged. It comes two days after an earlier round of storms killed 13 people in the Midwest and South.

At least 20 homes were ripped off their foundation and eight people were injured in the Chattanooga, Tenn., area after strong winds and hail lashed the area.

Thousands of schoolchildren in several states were sent home as a precaution, and other schools never opened. The Huntsville, Ala., mayor said students had to take cover as severe weather passed.

"Most of the children were in schools so they were in the hallways so it worked out very well," Mayor Tommy Battle said.

An apparent tornado damaged a state maximum security prison about 10 miles from Huntsville, but none of the facility's approximately 2,100 inmates escaped.

Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said there were no reports of injuries, but the roof was damaged on two large prison dormitories that each hold about 250 men. Part of the perimeter fence was knocked down, but the prison was secure.

In one subdivision in in Athens, Ala., damage was visible on 10 homes.

Not far away, the damage was much worse for retired high school band director Stanley Nelson. Winds peeled off his garage door and about a third of his roof, making rafters and boxes in his attic visible from the street.

"It's like it just exploded," he said.

Front to bring rain

to Tampa Bay area

Part of the weather system that brought severe weather and tornadoes to the Midwest this week will move through the Tampa Bay area late tonight. The system will bring a 60 percent chance of rain, though forecasters don't anticipate the system will pack any tornadoes or destructive winds. "It's the same front, just what's left of it, without its punch," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik. The rain should start sometime tonight, then push out of the area Sunday morning. Partly cloudy skies and lower temperatures will follow, with a high Sunday of about 65.

Town flattened, 28 die in storms 03/02/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 3, 2012 12:37am]
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