That proved tragically correct. Friday’s tornado outbreak killed more than three dozen people in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama and Georgia, with the death toll rising steadily Saturday as rescuers searched through the rubble across a vast region east of the Mississippi.
As of Saturday afternoon, the death toll stood at 38,
the Associated Press reported
. Among those injured was a 2-year-old girl found alone in a field after her parents and two siblings were killed by a tornado in New Pekin, Ind., according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The girl was taken to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. Hospital spokesman Brian Rublein said Saturday afternoon that the toddler was in critical condition. He confirmed that her immediate family had been killed but said she had relatives at her bedside. The hospital would not release further details.
One long-track twister, packing winds that scientists said might have hit 200 mph, chewed through the Ohio River Valley at more than 50 mph and obliterated much of Henryville, Ind.
Narrow escapes were numerous: A Henryville school bus driver, attempting to return children to their homes, saw the twister coming and returned to the town’s junior-senior high school just in time for the remaining kids to take shelter as the twister ripped the roof off the gymnasium and ravaged the school. The bus impaled a restaurant across the street.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who toured the Henryville devastation Saturday, said in an official statement released by his office, “We’ve learned so much and improved so much in disaster preparedness, warning systems and responder communications but still we are no match for Mother Nature at her worst.”
The tornado outbreak affected a huge area as the line of storms swept east like a harvest sickle. The tornadoes came close to, but spared, such major cities as Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville and Atlanta.
The Friday storms weren’t as destructive as the extraordinary outbreak April 27, 2011, when 317 people were killed by 199 tornadoes in the Deep South, with Alabama the hardest hit. Last year, there were outbreaks on three other days in April — the 15th, 16th and 26th — and an outbreak on May 22 in which a monster tornado leveled Joplin, Mo.
No one knows whether this year’s storm season will match last year’s mayhem. Researchers dream of being able to make a reliable seasonable forecast rather than one that looks out only a few days or a week ahead.