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Grief, resilience after storms rip through states, killing 39

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:16 PM EST, Sun March 4, 2012
Janet Clark stands in front of her home on Sunday, March 4, where she rode out Friday's EF4 tornado in Henryville, Indiana. Janet Clark stands in front of her home on Sunday, March 4, where she rode out Friday's EF4 tornado in Henryville, Indiana.
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Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
Tornadoes take deadly toll
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Survivor: "I feel blessed. I think the Lord protected me and let me get out of it alive"
  • Kentucky's governor says he is requesting a federal disaster declaration
  • A toddler who had survived the storm dies in an Indiana hospital
  • 39 are killed when tornadoes tear through Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Alabama and Georgia

Are you there? Send us photos and video. Check out CNN affiliates WLEX, WTHR, WHNT, WAFF, WAAY, KFVS, KTVI, WAVE, WLKY, WDRB and WHAS on the latest on the storms in the South and the Midwest. Find out how to help storm victims with Impact Your World.

West Liberty, Kentucky (CNN) -- With dozens dead and scores of buildings reduced to rubble, residents of the Midwest and South on Sunday were assessing the damage that a series of vicious twisters left behind last week.

By the time the powerful storm system faded, 39 were dead: 21 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one each in Alabama and Georgia.

Alabama town struck twice in one year

"The damage I saw yesterday was the worst I've seen. ... It was a war zone, debris everywhere, buildings destroyed, other buildings just the walls standing, roofs gone. It was a terrible sight," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters, describing his visit to the tornado-ravaged town of West Liberty.

On Sunday, nearly all that remained of Rose May's West Liberty house was a pile of broken wooden beams in a parking lot across the street. Nearby, scattered cinder blocks surrounded the basement area where Doris Shuck took shelter from the tornado.

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"I feel blessed. I think the Lord protected me and let me get out of it alive, and I'm thankful for that," she said.

Shuck said she emerged to devastation after the deafening storm ripped through the Kentucky town.

"I could hear people crying and asking for help," she said as she picked through what was left of her house Sunday.

Many miles and many states away, others described similar scenes.

Tall, once-sturdy trees littered the ground. Bright yellow school buses lay smashed into buildings. Garbage bins and wooden beams, which had flown through the air like jet airliners, resurfaced hundreds of yards away.

"It's like a bomb went off and everything is splintered, bricks are down and trees, and (there's) just a lot of debris," Ohio Gov. John Kasich said after visits to Moscow and Bethel.

On Sunday, the focus turned to caring for survivors whose lives were turned upside down by the storm.

Beshear told reporters he was requesting an expedited disaster declaration from President Barack Obama.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were scheduled to begin damage assessments in Kentucky on Monday, he said.

Meanwhile, state officials were preparing as forecasters predicted rain and snow would hit parts of Kentucky on Sunday night, Beshear said.

"We have made sure that the shelters are open. ... There's obviously food and clothing and warmth in those shelters (for tornado victims)," he said.

The tornado outbreak began Friday and extended into the next day, affecting millions of people from Indiana to Georgia. The National Weather Service has confirmed that at least 42 tornadoes swept across 10 states on Friday.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Goodin said the destruction left authorities there with "no idea how many people are left homeless."

Storm damage 'everywhere you look'
'We all stick together' in Henryville
Tornado victim died protecting wife
Quick thinking saved lives

More than 400 National Guard troops were deployed in Kentucky, while 250 more were dispatched in Indiana, according to state officials.

In Henryville, Indiana, about 20 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, an EF-4 tornado -- with sustained winds of between 166 mph and 200 mph, putting it in the top 2% of tornadoes in terms of its strength -- struck a school complex.

National Weather Service meteorologists said it was one of two tornadoes that hit the town, crediting the early dismissal of students with preventing more fatalities. The 40 students who had remained and huddled in an office area survived the storm, elementary school principal Glenn Riggs said.

But the storm destroyed schools, homes and businesses, leaving many parts of the town unrecognizable, Kevin Welz told CNN's iReport.

"It is something you would expect to see in an end-of-the-world movie," he said.

Pamela Rawlings described how her parents rushed to the middle of their one-story Henryville home for safety. After a tornado ripped through, a neighbor found the long-time couple about 30 feet apart -- with Pamela's 64-year-old father, Wayne Hunter, discovered dead and her mother, Lenora, bloodied but alive.

A toddler who had survived the storm in Salem, about 20 miles west of Henryville, died Sunday afternoon after family members took her off life support, Jefferson County Coroner Bob Jones said.

Tiny symbol of tornado survival dies

The 14-month-old girl had been in critical condition, surrounded by extended family members at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, said hospital spokesman Brian Rublein. Her immediate family -- including her parents, 3-year-old brother and 2-month-old sister -- were all killed in the storm.

In addition to the dead, hospitals continued to treat scores suffering from major trauma to minor injuries related to sudden ferocious spurts of high winds, powerful hail and drenching rains.

Obama offered his condolences and federal assistance if needed to the governors of Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, the White House said in a statement.

Residents and officials across the tornado-damaged areas said they were committed to rebuilding their communities.

"We're knocked down, but we're not knocked out," said Kasich, the Ohio governor. "We're going to get through it."

Beshear said residents in West Liberty and other parts of his state were showing their resilience.

"It's going to be a long, long time to get that town back on its feet, but somehow or another I know they'll want to do it, I know they will do it, and we're going to help them do it," he said.

CNN's Jim Spellman, Jacqui Jeras, Chris Dignam, Joe Sutton, Susan Candiotti, Athena Jones, Eric Marrapodi, Moni Basu, Melanie Whitley, Kara Devlin, Maria P. White, Miguel Susana, Greg Botelho and Nicole Saidi contributed to this report.

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