Storm system damages Western, Eastern and south-central Kentucky

bestep@herald-leader.com, jwarren@herald-leader.comFebruary 29, 2012 

  • More storms Friday

    After a reprieve Thursday, expect more severe storms on Friday.

    "We're going right back into it. It's a system very similar to the one we just had," meteorologist Chris Bailey said. "There will be an increased threat for severe thunderstorms Friday and into Friday night. And to be honest with you, in some aspects it looks like a slightly greater threat than we had leading up to" Wednesday.

    "The thing that worries me about this system Friday is that it has much colder air behind it," Bailey said. "So we may spike up close to 70 degrees on Friday, and then there will be a wintertime air mass behind it. That may end up heightening that severe weather risk even more."

    After that, it might snow before the weekend is through, he said.

    Thursday, however, will be sunny, with temperatures ranging from 55 to 60 degrees. "It will be a good day for cleanup and to pick up the pieces," Bailey said.

    Greg Kocher,gkocher1@herald-leader.com

A storm system that caused death and destruction in Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee also barrelled into Kentucky on Wednesday, roaring through Henderson, Hardin and LaRue counties in the western part of the state before hitting Russell and Morgan counties.

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.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255The Associated Press and staff writer Josh Kegley contributed to this story.

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