Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

March 2, 2012

9 deaths confirmed in Ky. as storms return

LOUISVILLE — A coroner in southeastern Kentucky reports four people have died in storms there, bringing the total number of weather deaths in the state for the day to at least nine.

Laurel County Coroner Doug Bowling says the bodies of two males and two females were found Friday night in three separate residences that he described as "flattened." The homes were in the East Bernstadt area of the county.

Laurel County Emergency Management Director Albert Hale says there are also "lots of injuries" from the storm.

Gov. Steve Beshear's office said earlier that four people died in Menifee County and one in Kenton County.

Tornadoes touched down in multiple counties as a storm system slammed the state for the second time in three days, killing five people.

Spokesman Terry Sebastian of Gov. Steve Beshear's office said four people were killed Menifee County in eastern Kentucky and one in Kenton County, near Cincinnati.

A 12-person rescue team from Lexington was heading to West Liberty in Morgan County to try to reach storm victims, Beshear's office said. The downtown there sustained heavy damage, and Beshear sent 50 Kentucky National Guard troops and a mobile Guard unit to the county to help with recovery.

Kentucky Emergency Management spokesman Buddy Rogers said officials were having difficulty getting into Menifee County and other areas to confirm the damage.

"We can't even get into some of these counties," he said Friday night. "The power is out, phones are out, roads are blocked and now it's dark, which complicates things."

Beshear declared a statewide emergency Friday evening after officials confirmed that at least three tornadoes touched down, demolishing a fire station, damaging buildings across the state and causing minor injuries but no fatalities.

Beshear was planning to fly to Morgan, Menifee and Kenton counties to assess damage on Saturday with Kentucky Adjutant Gen. Ed Tonini, Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers II of Manchester and Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

The tornadoes in northern and western Kentucky were part of a storm that brought hail, flash flooding and high, straight line winds to the state.

Beshear's declaration allows him to deploy state assistance, including the Guard, to affected counties without delays.

Rogers said the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado that touched down in Trimble County and stayed on the ground into neighboring Carroll County. That storm destroyed the Milton Fire Station No. 2 about 10 miles west of Bedford, said Kentucky State Police Trooper Brad Arterburn.

A mobile home was overturned and several barns were toppled in the county, Arterburn said. The only injuries reported were cuts and bruises, he said.

The other confirmed tornadoes were in Muhlenberg and Henderson counties in western Kentucky, Rogers said. Kentucky State Police also reported a tornado in Warren County near Bowling Green, but that one had not been confirmed early Friday evening.

Beshear said there were 23,000 storm-related power outages across the state.

Schools shut down early, high school basketball games were postponed and Churchill Downs closed its off-track betting operations.

The winds and rain tore the roof of a gymnasium at North Hopkins High School near Madisonville in western Kentucky. Hopkins County Emergency Management Director Frank Wright said the building was empty because school officials, after conferring with the National Weather Service, dismissed classes at 11:30 a.m. CST.

"That was a real, real smart idea," Wright told The Associated Press.

Wright said the winds and rain also caused the roof of an empty skating rink to collapse.

Rogers said there were two reports of injuries in Trimble County, one reported injury in Union County in western Kentucky and buildings were damaged in Grant and Pendleton counties in northern Kentucky. Rescue teams were searching the debris of those buildings, Rogers said.

"They just have to go in and search and make sure it wasn't occupied and if it was occupied, everyone is safe," Rogers said.

Wright said there were no injuries or fatalities in Hopkins County.

"All in all, we fared real well," Wright said.

The storm also temporarily closed a major hub for Delta Air Lines after blowing debris on the runways. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport spokeswoman Barb Schempf says one of three runways reopened Friday evening.

"It was limbs from trees, that sort of thing," Schempf said.

She said officials were working as quickly as possible to get the other two runways open.

Schempf said flights were delayed while others were cancelled and suggested that anyone flying check with their airline before going to the airport.

Multiple tornado warnings were issued mostly in western and central Kentucky as the state was pounded for a second time this week. The commonwealth was hit by an outbreak of tornadoes on Wednesday.

The National Weather Service said there was a moderate risk of severe storms across all of Kentucky, as well as for most of Tennessee and portions of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. But it said the highest risk stretched across portions of central and western Kentucky and northern Tennessee.

Hardin County Magistrate Lisa Williams hunkered down in the basement of her home Friday afternoon as the storm and tornado warnings moved her way from neighboring Grayson County. Williams went downstairs as the sky darkened as the storm moved from the Leitchfield area toward Elizabethtown.

"We are all in our basements as we speak," Williams said Friday afternoon.

Parts of Hardin County had taken the brunt of tornadoes on Wednesday, causing damage across the area, but no loss of life.

"We're having a real streak of it here," Williams said. "We're hoping and praying we'll be that lucky this time."

Kentucky State Police Trooper Norman Chaffins in Elizabethtown said there were reports of golf ball-sized hail, but no tornadoes.

"We tracked a funnel cloud for several miles, but it never came down while the troopers were following it," Chaffins said.

Grayson County Emergency Management Director Ernie Perkins said there were no initial reports of damage shortly after the storm blew through. The storm dropped golf ball-sized hail for between five and 10 minutes, but there were no confirmed tornadoes or damage, Perkins said.

"It looks to be in pretty good shape right now," Perkins said. "We had several possible rotations, but nothing confirmed coming down."

As the storm blew through Kentucky, several universities including the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University and Kentucky State University canceled afternoon and evening classes Friday.

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