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Tornado rips through Indiana and Kentucky; 16 killed

Steve Auten hugs his mother, Shelly, after a tornado swept through Newburgh, Ind., early Sunday. Steve had been a mile and half away with friends when the storm hit and came looking for his parents just as they were looking for him. The tree in the Auten'
Steve Auten hugs his mother, Shelly, after a tornado swept through Newburgh, Ind., early Sunday. Steve had been a mile and half away with friends when the storm hit and came looking for his parents just as they were looking for him. The tree in the Auten's front yard crashed through Steve's bedroom.
Cecelia Hanley, Associated Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — A tornado ripped across southwestern Indiana and northern Kentucky while most residents were asleep early Sunday, killing at least 16 people as it destroyed homes and knocked out power to thousands, state and county authorities said.

The death toll could grow, they said. About 200 people had been injured.

The tornado touched down near Henderson, Ky., and jumped the Ohio River into Indiana at around 2 a.m.

"It was just a real loud roar. It didn't seem like it lasted over 45 seconds to a minute, then it was calm again," said Steve Gaiser, who lives near a hard-hit area of mobile homes in Evansville.

At least 12 people were killed in the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park in Evansville, said Annie Groves, chief deputy coroner for Vanderburgh County. She said she expected the death toll to grow because an unknown number of people were believed still trapped in debris at the park, which has about 350 homes.

"They were in trailer homes, homes that were just torn apart by the storm, so they're just now getting in there trying to find people," Groves said. "It's just terrible."

Indiana homeland security spokeswoman Pam Bright said four other people were confirmed dead in adjoining Warrick County, east of Evansville, where the Ohio River city of Newburgh was struck. She said a fifth person initially reported as dead was alive but in critical condition.

Bright said about 100 homes were destroyed and 125 others were damaged at the mobile home park.

Larry and Christie Brown rode out the storm inside their mobile home, which suffered exterior damage.

"Man, it was more than words can say," Larry Brown said. "We opened the door and there wasn't anything sitting there."

Steve Sublett said his home in the Eastbrook park was destroyed as he lay in his bed.

"All of a sudden I heard a big kaboom and everything around me just like shattered and collapsed in on me. It was as if a big bomb went off," he said as he sat in his wheelchair outside the park.

Sublett told WIKY radio in Evansville that he was initially trapped under his headboard. "When I finally dug out a little bit, I could see nothing but sky," he said.

National Guard units were being mobilized to help with the search and recovery efforts, said Jane Jankowski, spokeswoman for Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The tornado developed in a line of thunderstorms that rolled rapidly eastward across the Ohio Valley during the morning. The National Weather Service posted severe thunderstorm warnings for sections of northern Ohio.

The damage path through Newburgh, eight miles east of Evansville, was about three-quarters of a mile wide, and extended for roughly 20 miles, Assistant Fire Chief Chad Bennett told CNN. He said emergency sirens sounded, but most people didn't hear them because it happened in the middle of the night.

No deaths were reported in Kentucky, said Michelle King, a dispatcher with the Henderson County sheriff's office.

The Ellis Park racetrack, between Evansville and Henderson, Ky., had significant damage to barns, the grandstand and other buildings, said Paul Kuerzi, the track's vice president and general manager.

Kuerzi said some people working at the track suffered minor injuries.

"It appears at this point that three horses have died from injuries suffered in storm. It's too early to know if any other horses were injured," Kuerzi said in a statement on the track Web site. About 150 horses in training were stabled at the track.

Mike Roeder, a spokesman for utility company Vectren, said 25,000 homes were without power, mostly in Warrick County. There also were reports of natural gas leaks.

Bright said it was the deadliest tornado in Indiana since April 3, 1974, when an outbreak of several tornadoes killed 47 people and destroyed 2,069 homes.