Evansville, Ind. — A tornado with winds exceeding 158 mph tore a path of devastation through western Kentucky and southern Indiana as residents slept early Sunday, reducing dozens of mobile homes to splinters and turning entire blocks of buildings into piles of rubble. At least 22 people were killed and 200 others injured.
Rescuers who arrived at the hard-hit Eastbrooke Mobile Home Park shortly after the tornado struck reported seeing children wandering in the debris, looking for their parents, and parents searching for missing children. Children's bicycles and other toys were strewn amid mattresses, chairs and insulation.
The tornado, the deadliest to hit the state since 1974, hit a horse-racing track near Henderson, Ky., then crossed into Indiana around 2 a.m.
"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.
At least 17 people were killed in the mobile home park, according to Eric Williams of the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department.
More people were believed to still be trapped in the debris, and National Guard units were called in to help with search-and-recovery efforts.
"They were in trailer homes, homes that were just torn apart by the storm, so they're just now getting in there trying to find people," Deputy Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves said. "It's just terrible."
Five other people were confirmed dead in neighboring Warrick County, east of Evansville, where the Ohio River city of Newburgh was hit. No deaths were reported in Kentucky.
Indiana homeland security spokeswoman Pam Bright said about 100 of the 350 or so homes at the Evansville mobile home park were destroyed and 125 others there were damaged.
Larry and Christie Brown rode out the storm inside one mobile home.
"Man, it was more than words can say," Larry Brown said. "We opened the door and there wasn't anything sitting there."
Caught by surprise
Chad Bennett, assistant fire chief in Newburgh, told CNN that sirens sounded, but most people did not hear them because it happened in the middle of the night.
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.
Warrick County Sheriff Marvin Heilman said the victims included a woman who was eight months' pregnant, her husband and a young child in the rural town of Degonia Springs. A teenage girl was also killed near Boonville, and her father was critically injured, he said.
Tim Martin, 42, was at his parents' mobile home when they heard the wind, and then the tornado picked up the home and shoved it into the neighbor's yard.
He and his parents escaped unharmed, but they heard several neighbors calling for help. A nearby mobile home was overturned, and another appeared to have been obliterated.
"All I could see was debris," he said. "I thought it was a bad dream."
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 heard a low roar and ran for the basement.
She made it downstairs, but her husband did not. He was blasted with shattered drywall, wood and other debris as the tornado shredded the home's roof.
"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. The storm stripped the roof off the couple's home and destroyed their barn.
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.
Elsewhere, a different tornado barreled through downtown Munfordville, Ky., before dawn Sunday, causing significant damage to more than 40 homes and businesses.
Mike Roeder, a spokesman for utility company Vectren, said 25,000 homes were without power Sunday. There also were reports of natural gas leaks.