Tornadoes kill 3 and leave trails of destruction in the central U.S.

Debris scatters the ground near damaged homes following a severe storm Friday, March 15, 2024, in Lakeview, Ohio. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)
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By JOSHUA A. BICKEL and JOHN SEEWER

Associated Press

LAKEVIEW, Ohio (AP) — Blaine Schmidt sifted through the broken glass and splintered wood throughout his Ohio home Friday, salvaging a guitar and a bundle of diapers.

His couch and a crib had been ripped apart by one of many tornadoes that tore through the central U.S., killing three people and injuring dozens more. The storm peeled open his living room wall, but at least the house was standing. The one next door was flattened.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” Schmidt said hours after he and his roommate took shelter in a bathtub, using the shower curtain to protect them from flying window glass.

Thursday night’s storms left trails of destruction across parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas. About 40 people were injured and dozens of homes were damaged in one Indiana community. Tornadoes were also reported in Illinois and Missouri.

The Indian Lake area in Ohio’s Logan County was one of the hardest hit. Three people died in the county northwest of Columbus, said Sheriff Randy Dodds.

Much of the damage was in the villages of Russells Point and Lakeview, where Schmidt lives. The villages are dotted with cottages owned by people who come for fishing and boating.

Search crews and cadaver dogs didn’t find any more victims Friday after going into neighborhoods that had been blocked by gas leaks and fallen trees overnight, Dodds said.

“When you see this damage, you’ll be surprised it was only three,” the sheriff said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who assessed the damage and met with residents, said it was fortunate the storm did not hit on a summer weekend.

Sandy Smith took shelter with her family in a laundry room of their Lakeview home after hearing the storm sirens. Seconds later, they heard debris batter the house. Her husband watched the garage blow away.

She went upstairs to rescue their cat who was trapped under a bookshelf. As soon she came back down, the roof collapsed.

A campground, an RV park and a laundromat were among the many businesses damaged. The storm produced fires in some spots and draped power lines through home windows, said Amber Fagan, president of the local chamber of commerce.

About 25 people were treated for mostly broken bones and internal injuries at the nearest hospital in Bellefontaine, said Laura Miller, a spokesperson for Mary Rutan Hospital.

About a half-dozen residents in Lakeview who were interviewed by The Associated Press said they heard tornado sirens 10 minutes before the storm hit, after they went off earlier.

Weather officials were assessing damage and confirming the tornadoes, counting at least five that touched down in Ohio alone.

In Indiana, a tornado injured 38 people in Winchester, where the mayor said some 130 homes and a Taco Bell restaurant were damaged or destroyed. Three people were in critical condition, but their injuries were not life-threatening, authorities said.

Residents, who said they got plenty of warning to take shelter, picked tree branches and sheet metal from their yards. Shingles littered streets and fields in the town northeast of Indianapolis.

Carey Todd, 55, said the tornado looked like “a bunch of black birds.”

Across from a church that was destroyed, a hymnal was blown open to No. 118, “Shelter in Time of Storm.”

Mayor Bob McCoy said he and his wife hunkered in a closet.

“I’ve never heard that sound before; I don’t want to hear it again,” McCoy said.

West of Winchester, officials said as many as half the structures in the town of Selma, population 750, might have been damaged. Only minor injuries were reported, emergency officials said in a news release.

Gov. Eric Holcomb praised first responders in Indiana, saying: “By the grace of God, everyone has lived through it all.”

Storms also damaged homes and trailers in the Ohio River communities of Hanover and Lamb in Indiana.

In Milton, Kentucky, two people were injured when their car was hit by debris from a tornado that damaged as many as 100 homes and businesses, said Trimble County Emergency Management Director Andrew Stark.

In Arkansas, a tornado struck the retirement community of Hot Springs Village, southwest of Little Rock, but there were no reports of fatalities or injuries, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Erik Green.