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Indiana tornado deals death and destruction


By John Gress

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (Reuters) - Shocked survivors of a tornado that killed 23 people in Indiana returned to shattered homes on Monday thankful to be alive but stunned by the destruction.


"The reality sets in. I came back today and just lost it," said Sherri Hudson standing near the one wall that was left of her house in the town of Newburgh.



Residents of the the Willow Brooke subdivision clean off tree limbs and debris from what was left of their home's roof after a tornado destroyed it in Evansville, Indiana November 6, 2005. (REUTERS/ John Sommers II)

She and her husband, Jerry, survived, she said, only because of a frantic telephone call from their son, Casey, telling them to ask no questions but to go to the basement immediately as the middle-of-the-night storm struck on Sunday.


"We no sooner got down there than it was like a bomb exploded. All the debris came falling down the stair," she said in an interview. "The only thing left are the cabinets in my kitchen. The dishes are still in them untouched."


But she said she and her husband consider themselves fortunate compared to those who live about a mile away in the Eastbrook mobile home park in Evansville where 18 people died.


Vanderburgh County Deputy Sheriff Eric Williams said the body of a resident of the park was found in a nearby pond on Monday, apparently blown there by the force of the storm "but we're hopeful there are no more" victims in and around that site.


The dead there ranged from children aged 2, 5 and 6 to a 78-year-old man. Five deaths were confirmed in neighbouring Warrick County, including a couple, their 4-year-old son and the woman's near-term fetus.


Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth said the tornado could not have touched down in a worse place -- a cluster of mobile homes surrounded by farmland where "there is not a place to escape to" -- with 11 minutes warning in the middle of the night.


More than 200 people were injured in the southwest Indiana region, some of them critically, after the storm hit at 2 a.m.




At Eastbrook, whose mobile homes had no sheltering basements, survivors told of being awakened by roaring winds, many not hearing warning sirens that sounded not long before, and trying to seek hiding places as their homes exploded around them. One woman told ABC-TV on Monday her mobile home was sent twisting through the air like the fictional Dorothy's farmhouse in "The Wizard of Oz," landing three or four streets away.


U.S. President George W. Bush, visiting Panama, said he had called Indiana Gov. Mitchell Daniels and asked him if more federal action was needed.


"Many Americans are now asking God's blessings on those who suffered through this natural disaster," Bush told reporters.


Daniels later filed a formal request with the White House for disaster aid, including emergency housing, unemployment assistance and crisis counseling.


A local emergency board member, quoted by the Evansville Courier & Press, said officials five years ago looked into a system that would automatically ring telephones in neighbourhoods known to be in the path of a tornado but rejected it because it cost several million dollars.


But mobile homes -- manufactured units without basements that are typically arrayed in clusters -- are especially vulnerable to tornadoes and even an added layer of warning may not have saved lives.


It was the deadliest U.S. tornado of 2005. Through September there had been only 10 tornado deaths -- eight of them mobile homes residents. In any given year, there are about 70 U.S. tornado fatalities.


The Evansville newspaper quoted local insurance adjusters as saying property damage, based on a cursory look, could run as high as $100 million.


The storm touched down in northern Kentucky then skipped across the Ohio River into southern Indiana.

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