March 5, 2012 / 3:40 AM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Calm weather offers respite after deadly US storms

* Twisters wreak havoc in several U.S. states

* Death toll from latest storms at 39 as toddler dies

* Snow and rain to create problems by Sunday night (Adds toddler death)

By John D. Stoll

CRITTENDEN, Ky., March 4 (Reuters) - Calm weather gave dazed residents of storm-wracked U.S. towns a respite on Sunday as they dug out from a chain of tornadoes that cut a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, killing at least 39 people.

The fast-moving twisters spawned by massive thunderstorms splintered blocks of homes, damaged schools and a prison, and tossed around vehicles like toys, killing 21 people in Kentucky, 13 in neighboring Indiana, three in Ohio and one in Alabama, officials said. Georgia also reported a storm-related death.

Forecasters said more trouble was headed for the hardest hit areas of Indiana and Kentucky on Sunday night, when up to three inches (7.6 cm) of rain and snow were expected to add to the burden for hundreds of residents whose homes were destroyed.

The fast-moving tornadoes that hit on Friday, numbering at least 30, came on top of severe weather earlier in the week in the Midwest and brought the overall death toll from the unseasonably early storms to at least 52 people.

On Sunday, a toddler found alive after the storms in an Indiana field died of her injuries, state police said. The tornado that killed Angel Babcock also claimed the lives of her parents and her two siblings.

Angel, who was reported to be 14 months old, had been in critical condition in a Kentucky hospital since Friday, when she was rescued after a tornado hit her family’s mobile home in New Pekin, Indiana.

The violent storms raised fears that 2012 will be another bad year for tornadoes after 550 deaths in the United States were blamed on twisters last year, the deadliest year in nearly a century, according to the National Weather Service.


National Guard troops set up checkpoints and examined documents of those seeking to enter hard-hit areas of Indiana and Kentucky following reports of looting.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear on Sunday told reporters the storm had caused at least $5.8 million in property damage. He described the scene in the hard-hit town of West Liberty as one of “total devastation” and signed an executive order barring price gouging for food and other necessities.

“It looked like a bomb had been dropped in the middle of town,” he said of West Liberty. “Buildings had the walls standing and the roof gone. It was a terrible sight. It’s going to be a long, long time to get that town on its feet.”

President Barack Obama called the governors of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky to offer condolences and assure them the federal government was ready to help if needed. Kentucky’s Beshear said he would request a federal disaster declaration.

Clean-up crews worked to move downed power lines and clear debris, and residents began putting tarps over damaged homes to prevent further damage. Meanwhile, the more fortunate brought donations including diapers, blankets and food to area churches.

“That’s what people do. It’s no biggie. It’s because we care. They are our neighbors,” said Brenda Parson, as she brought a carload of donations to the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, Indiana.

Residents in the affluent town of London, Kentucky, were eager to get back to some degree of normal life.

Willa Reynolds greeted dozens of parishioners at the front entrance of Grace Fellowship Church, many wiping snow flakes from their clothes as they walked in.

“It’s good to see you,” Reynolds said to one person. “It’s good to see every single person who walks through the door after the week we had.” (Additonal reporting by Susan Guyett, David Adams, Tom Brown, Ian Simpson, Karen Brooks, John Stoll and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Peter Bohan and Stacey Joyce)

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