EVANSVILLE, Ind. – A tornado with winds exceeding 158 mph ripped a path of destruction through western Kentucky and Indiana as residents slept early Sunday, reducing homes to splinters and leaving entire blocks of buildings in rubble. At least 22 people were killed and 200 others injured.
Rescuers who reached the hard-hit Eastbrook Mobile Home Park (search) shortly after 2 a.m. found children wandering in the broken glass and debris, looking for their parents, as parents called out for missing children.
One child was pulled alive from the debris more than 12 hours after the storm hit. But searchers said they were uncovering more bodies than survivors — at least 17 victims in the mobile home park alone.
"They were in trailer homes, homes that were just torn apart by the storm," Deputy Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves said. "It's just terrible."
All around, broken tree limbs, chunks of insulation, furniture and children's toys littered the ground as rescuers listened for survivors and used forklifts to move crushed mobile homes and cars.
The tornado, the deadliest to hit Indiana (search) since 1974, struck a horse racing track near Henderson, Ky., then crossed into Indiana.
"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 Eastbrook Mobile Home Park in Evansville.
Chad Bennett, assistant fire chief in Newburgh, told CNN that sirens sounded, but most people didn't hear them because it happened in the middle of the night.
Three members of a family — the mother, eight months' pregnant, her husband and their young son — were killed in their farmhouse near Degonia Springs, Warrick County Sheriff Marvin Heilman said. A teenage girl died near Boonville (search), and her father was critically injured, he said. No deaths were reported in Kentucky.
The tornado developed in a line of thunderstorms that rolled rapidly eastward across the Ohio Valley.
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.
Tim Martin, 42, was inside his parents' mobile home at Eastbrook when they heard the wind, and then the tornado picked up the home and shoved it into a neighbor's yard.
Martin and his parents escaped unharmed, but they heard several neighbors calling for help.
"All I could see was debris," he said. "I thought it was a bad dream."
A nearby mobile home was overturned, and another had been obliterated.
Patty Ellerbusch, 53, said she and her husband were in bed at their hilltop home in Newburgh when a relative called and warned them of the tornado.
They ran for the basement, but her husband didn't make it before the tornado hit. He was blasted with shattered drywall, wood and other debris as the tornado shredded the home's roof, she said.
"He was running down the hallway, and it knocked him down and ripped his glasses off. He said it felt like being in a wind tunnel," she said.
About 100 of the 350 mobile homes at Eastbrook were destroyed, and 125 others were damaged, Indiana homeland security spokeswoman Pam Bright said.
Bright 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.
Tornadoes can occur anytime of year, but peak tornado season in the United States lasts from March through the summer months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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.
Kuerzi said three horses died from injuries suffered in storm. He said it was too early to know if any other horses were injured. About 150 horses in training were stabled there.
Another tornado hit downtown Munfordville, in south-central Kentucky, a few hours later, destroying at least 25 homes and damaged dozens of others, as well as businesses. "It was frankly a miracle that no one was killed," Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher said.