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March 3, 2012

DAMAGE ASSESSMENT: Officials visit tornado’s aftermath

13 dead in Indiana, 39 in total; curfew in place for area

HENRYVILLE — Authorities over the weekend were trying to maintain order across northern Clark County as residents began cleaning up from Friday afternoon’s powerful tornadoes which killed one person in Henryville and 11 others in Indiana.

Road blocks were set up along Interstate 65 near Henryville and along Ind. 3 near Marysville, as throngs of people — volunteers, media and gawkers — flocked to the two small towns where the worst of the damage occurred.(Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6PxGCO3Orc&feature=youtu.be&a)

Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden said Indiana State Police were manning check points and asking for identification before letting motorists in. Additionally, a curfew is being enforced in the two areas between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Emergency crews have combed the two towns, knocking on doors in some instances, checking rubble in others. In the time hours since the storm hit, Rodden said he believes most people have been accounted for. However, he said communication was still difficult as cellular service was spotty to nonexistent in the affected areas.

On Sunday, Indiana State Police revised the number of fatalities from Friday’s deadly storms to 12 instead of 14 as previously reported. That was before a girl from New Pekin died at a Louisville hospital Sunday evening.

“There are two less fatalities in Scott County,” said Indiana State Police Spokesman Sgt. Jerry Goodin. “Right now, we’re done with search and rescue. We’re fairly confident we have located everyone.”

He added police and rescue workers conducted a house-to-house search in every county and the homes were marked when the search was completed. He added police will continue to patrol the affected areas.

The fatality in Clark County took place on Speith Road, near Henryville, but Rodden was unable to release the name of the victim. Clark County Coroner Edwin “Huck” Coots could not be reached for comment.

As for clean up, Rodden noted that electric crews from Duke Energy, Hoosier Energy and Clark County REMC have been working since the storm moved out of the area. Further, the Clark County Commissioners as well as other local governments and private businesses were donating dump trucks and Dumpsters.

“It’s going to be a long effort,” Rodden said.

As the work got started, Gov. Mitch Daniels came to the area to see the devastation for himself Saturday.

“Once again mother nature has dealt harshly with Indiana,” Daniels said to reporters. “I can’t tell you how proud and impressed I am with the response of state and local people. Regrettably, we’ve had far too much practice with this.”

Daniels noted 21,000 residents around the state were without power immediately after the storm but that number had dropped to the hundreds. Utility officials say they don’t know how long it will take to restore electricity service throughout the Southern Indiana area hardest hit by Friday’s tornado outbreak.

Clark County REMC says some 2,800 homes and businesses remained without power Sunday in and around Henryville and Marysville. The utility says it had nearly 8,000 outages following the Friday afternoon storms.

The company says crews from other utilities are helping to replace dozens of poles, string new wire and trim trees. The utility says its power supplier estimates it could take a week to rebuild the substation and transmission lines in the Henryville area. Emergency officials have been concerned about downed electrical lines posing a safety threat to those working to clean up damage.

Additionally, Daniels said water was back on in Henryville, however a boil advisory was in effect.

“Each place we’re going to be today, I’ve got memories and usually friends — and it’s very, very difficult,” he said. “As always, when things are at their worst, people in this state are at their best.

“You try to learn from each instance. As far as I can tell, lessons learned were applied here.”

In the immediate term, food, shelter and medical assistance will be the state’s focus, followed quickly by financial assistance. The governor also noted he was sure that the damage he’d surveyed early in the day would qualify the area for aid from the federal government.

Daniels declared disaster emergencies for 11 Southern Indiana counties. He issued the declarations Saturday for Clark, Gibson, Harrison, Jefferson, Posey, Ripley, Scott, Shelby, Vanderburgh, Warrick and Washington counties.

Rep. Todd Young said funding would likely come from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration.

“We’ll play the role of traffic director,” he said, noting that his office would try and point people toward assistance as it becomes available.

“You can’t help but feel for all the communities affected,” he said. “We dust off our trousers, we roll up our sleeves.”

Hoosiers who sustained damage caused by severe weather that started Thursday are asked to report damage online by visiting www.in.gov/dhs and clicking on “Citizen Damage Reports for March Severe Weather” in the middle of the page under “Topics of the Day.”

“Individuals with damage from the severe weather must report quickly,” said IDHS Executive Director Joe Wainscott. “The faster we can assess the situation, the better.”

National Weather Service officials say that actually two tornadoes hit Henryville and that one packed 175 mph winds. Weather service officials said Saturday that the first tornado that cut a swath of destruction through Henryville on Friday was on the ground for 52 miles and measured about 150 yards wide. That tornado was an EF-4 on the enhanced Fujita scale that measures tornadic force. EF-4 tornadoes are the second-strongest of classified tornadoes in terms of intensity, with winds between 166 mph and 200 mph.

A second, smaller tornado passed through a short while later. Across the Southern Indiana and Kentucky, 10 tornadoes have been confirmed.

“We prepare and try to get people prepared as best as you can,” Goodin said. “But how do you prepare for the type of devastation that happened [Friday]?”

A National Guard convoy poured into Henryville on Saturday morning and FEMA sent a team to help coordinate state and local responders.

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Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services is pictured on Friday afternoon in New Albany. Floyd County is considering the idea of selling the hospital to help relieve some financial pressure.

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