(Holton, Ind.) - The worst and deadliest storm cell to hit the tri-state in years has claimed several lives across the region.
The deadly storms triggered a Tornado Watch from the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio early Friday afternoon. At around 3:30, the watch became a warning for counties throughout the Eagle 99.3 listening area.
One of the worst hit areas was the small town of Holton along U.S. 50 in western Ripley County. At approximately 4:00 p.m., a twister touched down, moving northeast across the highway.
Warning sirens had gone off earlier in the afternoon, but the tornado simply moved to quickly to give any warning aside from flying debris and howling winds, residents said.
"It hit before we even knew it, and then it was gone just as fast," said Mary, who was working at a liquor store in Holton. She took shelter in the store's freezer as a pop machine outside was blown over and a dumpster was flipped on its top.
Two people died in the Holton tornado. Ron Pickett, 59, of Holton, and Armando Hernandez were identified by Indiana State Police as the victims.
Hernandez was a resident of Mexico visiting family in Holton. He was in his early 20's, but a definite age could not be confirmed by state police.
Six people were transported by area EMS crews to Margaret Mary Community Hospital in Batesville. Two of them had life-threatening injuries while the other four were suffering from serious but non-life threatening injuries.
Property damage was extensive. Mobile homes were shredded to resemble scrap heaps. Debris was lodge in the upper reaches of trees lining nearby fields.
Versailles Street in Holton was covered in debris and downed power lines as residents and family that had come to assist them milled about the mess. Although land line phones were knocked out, cell phones were still functioning allowing residents to keep in touch with loved ones.
More than 100 police, fire, and EMS workers from around Ripley County rushed to the scene to help including the sheriff's office, state police, and members of most fire departments in the county.
"There will be a law enforcement presence in the Holton area overnight to maintain security and in the morning those residents who suffered serious damage to their homes may be allowed back into the area to assess damage and recover whatever personal items may not have been blown away during the tornado," said Indiana State Police Sgt. Noel Houze with the ISP Versailles Post.
Residents left without a home or place to go were being shuttled to South Ripley Elementary School in nearby Versailles where a shelter had been opened providing beds, food, and showers.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security said anyone uncertain about the safety of residents in affected areas should visit www.redcross.org and click on “List Yourself or Search Registrants” to register or see if their friend or family member has checked in.
Funnel clouds were also reported in Lawrenceburg and Vevay. Debris was seen falling from the sky in Ohio County.
A listener in Vevay sent a photo of fist-sized hail which had fallen there.
Indiana's confirmed death toll from Friday's storm as of midnight Saturday was 14. Kentucky had a dozen deaths with at least two more in Ohio.
Three of the Kentucky victims were in Kenton County.
"In other areas of Indiana there have been multiple fatalities including four in Jefferson County, four in Washington County, and three in Scott County," Houze said.
Jefferson County victims in need of shelter were taken to Lide White Boys and Girls Club in Madison.
The town of Henryville in Indiana's Clark County, approximately 15-20 miles north of Louisville, was reported as being "blown of the map." An elementary school there was destroyed, but officials said children had already left for the day and only minor injuries occurred there.
A school bus was seen resting in the remnants of a building.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will be visiting the storm damaged areas through southern Indiana on Saturday.
"Once again Mother Nature has dealt harshly with Indiana," Daniels said in a statement late Friday night.
"Our every thought is with those we’ve lost and those who have suffered. We’ve learned so much and improved so much in disaster preparedness, warning systems and responder communications but still we are no match for Mother Nature at her worst. We’re hopeful that we know the full extent of the damage but it will be tomorrow before we can give a final report with any confidence."
The National Weather Service said five teams of storm surveyors will be spread across the area on Saturday. The teams will investigate the suspected tornado sites in Holton, Carrollton to Piner (Ky.), Worthville to Dry Ridge (Ky.), Moscow to Peebles to Piketon (Oh.), and Ripley to Bentonville to West Union (Oh.).
More locations outside those more devastated paths will also likely see surveyors through the weekend.
"A final assessment including results of the survey are expected to be completed and transmitted via a public information statement be Tuesday, March 6," said a statement from the NWS.
The National Weather Service issued over 150 tornado warnings Friday.
Here is a video from the aftermath of teh tornado in western Ripley County, posted on YouTube by user d6165: