CBSN

Tornado Recovery Focuses On Pond

Emergency officials prepare to drain a retention pond near Eastbrook Mobile Home Park in Evansville, Ind., Monday, Nov. 7, 2005. A body was pulled from the pond early Monday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
AP
Crews looking for victims of a weekend tornado finished searching the wreckage of a mobile home park and turned their attention Monday to draining a large retention pond where it was feared more bodies would be found.

A loud roar was all the warning many residents got, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. Most were sound asleep when the sirens sounded early Sunday and, in truth, there likely was no place to hide from the fiercest tornado to hit Indiana in more than 30 years.

The death toll stood at 21 from the tornado, which struck at 2 a.m. Sunday as people slept, making it the deadliest in Indiana in more than three decades. That figure was adjusted down one after it was determined that authorities had counted an eight-month fetus as a 22nd victim.

Seventeen people died at Eastbrook Mobile Home Park, including some victims found in the retention pond, authorities said.

"They were in trailer homes, homes that were just torn apart by the storm," Deputy Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves said. "It's just terrible."

"It exploded, it just exploded, and other people's trailers were inside of ours," survivor Stacy Wright told CBS News. "We found kids inside our trailer buried under our stuff."

The search for victims and survivors broke off several hours after dark Sunday night. Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth said the 6-foot-deep pond nearby, where some victims were found, would be drained to determine whether it held any other bodies.

Knight Township Fire Chief Dale Naylor said he believed that all survivors or bodies left in the wreckage had otherwise been found.

Four others, including the woman who was eight months pregnant, died from the tornado in neighboring Warrick County, east of Evansville. More than 100 people were taken to hospitals. Ellsworth said authorities did not have a count of any people missing because so many had left the area on their own.

Authorities were not yet allowing residents to return to check on their homes as crews continued to clean up and check that utilities had been shut off. National Guard troops were called in to help with search-and-recovery efforts.

"Mother Nature picked the worst place to drop in a tornado," Ellsworth said. "There's not a safe place to escape to. You're just up to fate at this point."

The tornado struck a horse racing track near Henderson, Kentucky, then crossed into Indiana.

All the dead were in Indiana. The youngest victim at the trailer park was a 2-year-old boy who was killed along with his 61-year-old grandmother, the Vanderburgh County coroner's office said.

The deaths in Warrick County included Cheryl Warren — a dental assistant who was eight months pregnant — her 4-year-old son, Isaac, and her husband, Jeremy, a truck driver. Authorities there also were counting as a fifth death the woman's fetus.

Mobile home park resident Tim Martin, 42, said he and his parents were awakened by the wind, which lifted their home and moved it halfway into the neighbor's yard.

They escaped unharmed, but he said they heard several neighbors calling for help. A neighboring mobile home was overturned, he said, and another appeared to have been destroyed.

"All I could see was debris," he said. "I thought it was a bad dream."

Indiana officials said warning sirens sounded twice, but many in the mobile home park said they did not hear them. Emergency officials say the tornado warning sirens are loud enough to warn people who are outside but might not reach those tucked in bed.

"We heard them after the actual tornado. After we were woke up — After we woke up, and were running," Amy Lamastus told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "It was already going through and we heard it then. But we didn't hear it prior to that. We were asleep."

"They're not really designed to wake people up in the middle of the night," said John Buckman, fire chief of German Township Fire Department in Vanderburgh County.

County officials had considered a warning system that would have placed phone calls to people living in this area, reports Bowers, but the cost was in the millions. Now, that price tag doesn't seem so high.

Indiana homeland security spokeswoman Pam Bright said the tornado was the deadliest in Indiana since April 3, 1974, when 47 people were killed. Those storms were part of one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history, which killed more than 300 in the South and Midwest and devastated Xenia, Ohio.

Ryan Presley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the tornado appears to have been an F3 on the Fujita scale, with winds ranging from 158 mph to 206 mph . The scale ranges from F0, the weakest, to F5, the strongest.