By BILL ESTEP and JIM WARREN
10:54 AM EST, March 1, 2012
A storm system that caused death and destruction in Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee also barreled into Kentucky on Wednesday, roaring through Henderson, Hardin and LaRue counties in the western part of the state before hitting Russell and Morgan counties.
Tornado warnings also were issued for Mercer, Boyle and Casey counties late Wednesnday morning and into the afternoon, but little significant damage was reported from the storms. Lincoln County was never under a warning, but a potential twister — or at least high winds — ripped through the county about 2:30 p.m., Emergency Management Coordinator Don Gilliam said.
“We had a stretch from Neals Creek across the fairgrounds over to Old Ottenheim Road that was a possible tornado or maybe just straight line winds,” Gilliam said this morning. “Some outbuildings were knocked over, a carport was taken off the side of a house and, of course, a lot of trees were downed. A barn out on Old Ottenhiem Road was completely destroyed.”
The debris pattern from that barn, owned by Lester and Pat Cook, appears to have a rotation to it, indicating a possible tornado, Gilliam said, adding he will send pictures of the damage and GPS coordinates to the National Weather Service today to help determine if a twister hit the area.
In Hodgenville in LaRue County, about 55 miles southwest of Louisville, a tornado destroyed or severely damaged 20 houses.
Mobile homes and houses also were flattened in Henderson and Elizabethtown, officials said.
A tornado with winds of 125 miles an hour hit Elizabethtown.
“It picked the whole building up,” said Jim Owen, whose father owns Harry Owen Trucking, which sustained heavy damage. “It would take a group of 20 men five days with equipment to tear that down.”
In Henderson, in Western Kentucky, a tornado with winds of 90 mph destroyed five houses near the Ohio River and damaged two others. Two residents were taken to hospitals with injuries, said Larry Koerber, the local emergency management director.
Farther west, two people were rescued after becoming trapped in a mobile home that was toppled before dawn by fierce winds in McCracken County, said Paul Carter, the local emergency management director. They were taken to a hospital with serious injuries, he said.
In Russell County, which encompasses most of Lake Cumberland, high winds destroyed five to seven mobile homes when a suspected tornado hit early in the afternoon, said H.M. Bottom, the county’s emergency management director.
Much of the damage occurred in the northern part of the county in a community called Webb’s Crossroads. The Red Cross had made arrangements for several families to stay at a local motel.
Cecile Moore, 63, said she was at her small mobile home, looking out the door to watch the weather, when her daughter called from Campbellsville and urged Moore to get into the underground storm shelter at her nephew’s mobile home next door.
Moore said her son, Troy Moore, came to her house, and they decided to head to the shelter as the storm moved in. They had been in the shelter only a couple of minutes when the storm ripped the roof and sides from her home.
“It saved mine and my son’s life,” she said of going to the shelter. When they came out, she saw that the mobile home where her nephew, Aaron Keith, lived, was torn apart. Then she saw her own home was destroyed.
The high winds also destroyed Phillip Keith’s nearby double-wide modular home and heavily damaged the garage he used for his septic-tank business. Keith is Moore’s brother.
Officials in West Liberty in Morgan County, about 80 miles east of Lexington, reported several buildings damaged. The most serious damage occurred at the Country Carpet outlet, which lost its roof.
Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley said county officials received reports of a funnel cloud a few miles west of West Liberty. He said damage mainly was centered in that area, along U.S. 460 and Ky. 191.
Angie Stacy, whose family operates Country Carpet, said furniture and carpeting in the building were soaked by rain after the roof blew away. She estimated total damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Stacy said she and her brother Michael stepped outside the store about 2 p.m. to check on the weather and turned to see the roof lifted off.
“I was talking to my mom on my cellphone ... and about that time we saw sheets of rain behind us,” she said. “The rain whirled around to the other side of the road, and then all of a sudden we saw the roof go flying off.”
Mike Callahan, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Louisville, said Wednesday’s most severe weather cut a line just below the state’s two biggest cities.
“Both Louisville and Lexington were spared this time,” he said.
A Lexington woman was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening after lightning struck her house on Cheddington Lane, off Chinoe Road, causing a chunk of drywall to fall on her as she was asleep in her bedroom, fire Battalion Chief Ed Davis said.
Davis said lightning apparently struck the roof near the chimney about 6 a.m., blowing off a section of the roof and loosening the 4-by-8-foot piece of drywall.
Just as several Kentucky communities are recovering from destructive tornadoes on Wednesday, the National Weather Service reports another chance for severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes on Friday.
"Friday morning, a warm front will move north through the region, and will bring thunderstorms along with it, some of which could be severe with isolated large hail. Then Friday evening, a cold front will sweep into the area, with a better chance of severe weather. Damaging winds, hail, and tornadoes all appear possible in the afternoon and evening," according to a statement on the weather service's Louisville website.
The NWS estimates the chance for severe weather for most of Kentucky on Friday afternoon and evening at 45 percent. Only extreme western and eastern Kentucky fall outside the 45-percent zone.
The NOAA Storm Prediction Centers labels 45 percent as a moderate risk for severe storms.
Editor’s Note: Advocate-Messenger Staff Writer Todd Kleffman contributed to this report.
SO YOU KNOW
March is severe weather awareness month for Kentucky. At 10:07 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a statewide severe weather drill, assuming the weather is cooperative. In Danville, the outdoor sirens will be activated, local cable TV will be activated with an announcement, and Danville’s alert text messaging and email will be activated with a notice of the drill, said Lennie Shepperson, director of Danville-Boyle County Emergency Management.
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