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Calm weather a respite in US tornado zone

Updated: 2012-03-05 13:54
( Agencies)

Calm weather a respite in US tornado zone

A truck is seen among the ruins of a garage in Moscow, Ohio, March 4, 2012.[Photo/Agencies]

CRITTENDEN, Ky. - Calm weather gave dazed residents of storm-wracked towns a respite early 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 20 people in Kentucky, 14 in neighboring Indiana, three in Ohio and one in Alabama, officials said. Georgia also reported a storm-related death.

"We're not unfamiliar with Mother Nature's wrath out here in Indiana," Governor Mitch Daniels told CNN during a visit to the stricken southeast corner of the state.

"But this is about as serious as we've seen in the years since I've been in this job," he said, standing against the backdrop of the hard-hit town of Henryville, which declared a nighttime curfew to prevent looting.

Friday's storms came on top of severe weather earlier in the week in the Midwest and brought the overall death toll from the unseasonably early storms this week to at least 52 people.

Tornadoes smashed Indiana and Kentucky hard, with Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Tennessee overrun as well. But the National Weather Service forecast a mild morning for the hardest hit areas on Sunday, with rain or snow possible in some areas.

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, the White House said.

Television footage from Indiana and Kentucky showed houses ripped from their foundations, trees downed and stripped of their foliage, and rubble scattered across wide stretches of land.

In Georgia, light planes were lifted off the tarmac of a regional airport in Paulding County and thrown back on the ground. In Indiana, a school bus was slammed into a building.

Clean-up crews worked to move downed power lines and clear debris, and residents began putting tarps over torn apart 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.