Tornado hits Ky., Ind., leaving at least 22 dead

Hundreds reported injured by early morning twister

November 07, 2005|By TONYA MAXWELL AND JOSH NOEL | TONYA MAXWELL AND JOSH NOEL,THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Hearing the winds whip outside his mobile home and the sound of breaking glass, Dustin Watts ordered his wife to get in the bathtub and then went to get his sons, ages 5 and 2.

Watts, 28, doesn't know what happened next. But he thinks the tornado that killed at least 22 people when it struck northern Kentucky and southern Indiana early yesterday tossed his home into the air.

"I don't know if it flipped over, but it felt like it did," Watts said as he sat on concrete steps that used to lead to his trailer but connected to nothing yesterday afternoon. The frame of his trailer sat about 20 feet away in Eastbrook Mobile Home Park outside Evansville.

Though one of his boys suffered head injuries and was hospitalized, Watts and the rest of his family were lucky compared with their neighbors in the trailer park, the site of the most fatalities from the tornado. By yesterday evening, Vanderburgh County officials estimated that at least 17 people had been killed in the trailer park, where 144 of the 350 mobile homes were obliterated or left uninhabitable. Five other people died in nearby Warrick County, Ind.

"If we're lucky that's going to be it, but I've got a feeling it's going to go up," said Don Erk, Vanderburgh County coroner, who said three children were among the dead.

Authorities were preparing to drain a nearby lake where four trailers landed to see whether people were inside. Though darkness and scant moonlight hampered their efforts, they set up lights and were heartened by the evening arrival of Indiana Task Force 1, a high-tech search and rescue team, according to Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth.

The death toll from yesterday's tornado, which struck about 2 a.m., was Indiana's worst since 1974, when a string of twisters hit 13 states and southern Canada, killing 351 people, including 47 in Indiana, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

The tornado more than tripled the U.S. tornado death toll for the year. Until yesterday, 10 people had been killed in tornadoes this year, according to the National Weather Service.

St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville and its sister hospital in Warrick County treated about 180 people for injuries from blunt head and chest trauma to broken bones and cuts. Thirty-two were admitted, including 14 in critical condition, a spokesman said.

Deaconess Hospital in Evansville treated 46 people, admitting 31, including six in critical condition.

Emergency rescue officials blamed the timing of the tornado for the number of injuries and fatalities.

"If people are at work, they wouldn't have been in their residences, and there probably would have been more communication," said Maj. Stephen Woodall of the Vanderburgh County sheriff's office. "At that time of the morning, most people are asleep."

Authorities said that sirens blared in many of the communities and that the emergency broadcast system was activated to alert people to the coming storm, but officials believe many people slept through the warnings or could not hear the sirens because of the winds.

The Chicago Tribune's Tonya Maxwell reported from Evansville and Josh Noel from Chicago. Tribune reporter Virginia Groark in Chicago contributed to the article.

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