Tornadoes ravage Ohio, Midwest; at least 3 dead, damage widespread

Authorities on Friday continued search efforts and began to survey the immense damage inflicted by a series of tornadoes that ripped across the central U.S. and Midwest overnight, leveling homes, killing at least three people and injuring dozens, officials confirmed.

By late afternoon, at least 14 tornadoes had been confirmed in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio on Thursday and overnight into Friday morning.

The worst damage was reported in Ohio, where the storms killed at least three people and devastated the Indian Lake and Orchard Island communities, about 70 miles northwest of Columbus, Logan County Sheriff Randy Dodds said at a news conference Friday. He said more bodies may be found as first responders and volunteers search through rubble.

In east-central Indiana, 38 people were injured and many homes and businesses were destroyed by tornadoes, officials said. In Arkansas, a probable tornado struck a retirement community about 40 miles southwest of Little Rock. And while only minor injuries were reported, twisters damaged dozens of buildings in northern Kentucky. Tornadoes were also suspected in Illinois and Missouri.

In total, the weather service recorded more than 670 reports of severe weather across 12 states Thursday, including 500 hail reports. At one point during the afternoon, the National Weather Service had 16 simultaneous tornado warnings in effect – the seventh most for any day in March since 1986, said Daryl Herzmann, a weather analyst with the Iowa Environmental Mesonet at Iowa State University.

The tornadoes were stirred up by powerful storms that had dropped baseball-sized hail across the Plains and Midwest regions as it moved east over several days this week.

'It sounded like a freight train'

Searches were ongoing in central Ohio's Logan County Friday afternoon and, because of the severity of the damage, heavy equipment was being used to lift large piles of debris, said Dobbs at a Friday news conference.

“It’s going to take a long time,” Dobbs said, adding that many areas were inaccessible to first responders overnight due to gas leaks and downed power lines. More than 20,000 utility customers were without power, according to a database maintained by USA TODAY.

Indian Lake resident Blaine Schmitt was working outside his home last night when his wife called, warned him about the tornado and urged him to get into the bathtub. He gathered his dog and friend, Greg McDougle, and hunkered down in the bathroom.

"It sounded like a freight train literally went through the living room," Schmitt said. While the potential twister shredded the front wall of his house, Schmitt and McDougle managed to get through the storm unscathed. "I thank God that I'm alive and that my kids weren't here. It was very emotional when I first got here, and it's been emotional ever since then. But I pray every day and it paid off," he said.

McDougle used to live next door with his father. He sold the home two years ago, and it was being renovated when the storm hit. Now, all that remains is scattered debris, a single flattened wall, and the foundation.

"This is what's left," McDougle said. "No one was living here, and thank God for that."

Damage is seen to houses in The Pines at Berlin Station subdivision in Lewis Center, Delaware County, on Friday morning after severe storms ripped through Central Ohio overnight.
Damage is seen to houses in The Pines at Berlin Station subdivision in Lewis Center, Delaware County, on Friday morning after severe storms ripped through Central Ohio overnight.

Tornado touchdowns also were reported in other parts of Ohio. A half-mile-wide tornado was reported on the ground in Huron County by that county's emergency management agency with damage to homes and structures, according to the weather service in Cleveland. Closer to Columbus, a middle school and many houses were damaged by fallen trees and electrical transmission towers in Delaware County.

“Someone else’s roof is in my kitchen,” said Katie Sprinkle, who weathered the storm with her husband and two kids, ages 9 and 11. The kids wore bike helmets to protect themselves from falling debris, and her husband placed an overturned canoe over them. The family could hear windows breaking. It sounded like an explosion, Sprinkle said.

Officials in Indiana report 38 people injured, no deaths in tornadoes

With flashing emergency lights and strewn power lines around her, Ellie Rohrer and her siblings scavenged a pile of objects.

The pile of books, rubble, baby dolls and various papers, is all that’s left of her grandmother’s house in Randolph County, one of the worst hit parts of Indiana. Much of the house was swept to the other side of the road.

The family got a call from their grandmother, who phoned for help because she was stuck under a wall. Rohrer, her brothers and friends came to the rescue and lifted the wall pinning the woman to the ground, Rohrer told The Muncie Star Press, part of the USA TODAY Network.

She was taken to a hospital in Richmond with a concussion, she said. As she was being treated, her grandchildren tried to salvage what they could, fearing looters might come for the wreckage. “My grandma is the matriarch who tends to write everything down,” Rohrer said.

Across Delaware and Randolph counties, 38 people were injured in the storm, according to Bob McCoy, the mayor of Winchester, a town 70 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Twenty-two homes were totally destroyed and 110 were heavily damaged, he added. No deaths had been reported.

"Praise the lord for this ... because it could have been really bad," McCoy said.

Jessie Perez, and her aunt, Rebecca Aldridge, hid in a closet when a tornado came through Milton, Ky., on Thursday, March 14. A tree now occupies their kitchen but no one was hurt.
Jessie Perez, and her aunt, Rebecca Aldridge, hid in a closet when a tornado came through Milton, Ky., on Thursday, March 14. A tree now occupies their kitchen but no one was hurt.

Dozens of buildings damaged in Kentucky; minor injuries reported

In Kentucky, Trimble County Emergency Management Director Andrew Stark confirmed a tornado had touched down in the town of Milton, just south of Madison, Indiana. Stark said at least 50 structures, including homes were damaged.

"We have a whole bunch of damage," he said.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Friday.

"We have significant damage to a number of structures, especially in Milton, in Trimble County," Beshear said. "Though, thankfully, every report we have received, up until now, indicates there have been no fatalities and only a couple of minor injuries – and that is the most important thing."

“We are going to work to do everything we can to help those impacted – and we think there are over 100 structures that are potentially damaged," Beshear said in a statement Thursday evening. "Our job is to make sure that no Kentuckian is alone, especially in these difficult times.”

What were the tornadoes rated?

Survey crews from several weather service offices fanned out across the devastated areas Friday to do damage assessments and tornado ratings.

The following tornadoes had been preliminarily confirmed by the weather service on Friday afternoon:


  • Mountain Valley: EF-2 damage confirmed in Garland County, with peak winds of 115 mph. It traveled about 8.5 miles into Saline County and was about 1,000 yards wide.


  • Fieldon: EF-0 touched down in Central Jersey County with winds of 85 mph.

  • Fidelity: EF-0 touched down south of Fidelity, with winds of 85 mph and was on the ground for about four minutes.

  • Jerseyville: EF-0 touched down in Jersey County, with estimated winds at 75 mph, and was on the ground for 10 minutes.


  • Winchester: EF-3. The Indianapolis weather service said the tornado touched down in Delaware County, moved into Randolph County and then beyond into Ohio, and may have traveled 25 miles. Its winds were estimated at 155-165 mph.

  • Sandy Beach: EF-2, with 115 mph winds was part of the same parent thunderstorm track as the confirmed tornado in Hanover County and the service believes the points "will eventually connect but we can't confirm that fact just yet," , said meteorologist Michael Kochasic.

  • Switzerland, County: EF-1 tornado was confirmed southwest of Vevay.


  • St. Louis County: EF-0 briefly touched down in Charlack, with 74 mph winds.


  • Logan County: EF-2 damage was confirmed near Orchard Island and in Lakeview, where the survey was continuing.

  • Crawford/Richland County: EF-2 with winds of 120 mph traveled 10.34 miles from near New Washington to Plymouth.

  • Hancock County: EF-1 with winds of 100 mph developed in Orange Township and traveled 3.3 miles, damaging 5 homes and damaging or destroying several farm buildings.

  • Mercer and Auglaize counties: EF-1 tornado "is believed to have started near Celina and ended north of Moulton."

  • Mercer County: EF-1 tornado occurred in western Mercer County, west of Celina.

  • Licking County: EF-1 tornado confirmed north of Johnstown.

Contributing: Associated Press; Columbus Dispatch; Louisville Courtier Journal; Muncie Star Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tornadoes in Ohio, Midwest: Immense damage kills 3, injures many