Eleven tornadoes confirmed in Kentucky

bestep@herald-leader.com, jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 1, 2012 

Nearly a dozen tornadoes caused damage in communities from the far western to the eastern end of Kentucky on Wednesday, and people need to be prepared for the potential for more wicked weather Friday, according to state and federal officials.

Gov. Steve Beshear's office said Thursday that the National Weather Service confirmed 11 tornadoes struck the state on Leap Day.

The tornadoes hit LaRue, Muhlenberg, Russell, Pulaski, Casey, Ballard, McCracken, Morgan, Grayson, Hardin and Henderson counties, according to information from Beshear's office or the weather service. Most of the tornadoes were classified as EF-2 in strength, meaning they packed estimated wind speeds of up to 135 miles per hour.

There was also damage in areas across the state from high winds that were not tornadoes, the weather service said.

Beshear's office said six counties — Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Morgan, Muhlenberg and Owsley — had declared local emergencies. Preliminary assessments indicated the storms destroyed or badly damaged at least 40 homes, Beshear's office said.

High winds also destroyed or damaged barns, outbuildings and vehicles, and knocked down utility lines and trees.

There were no deaths in Kentucky, but the storms injured eight people, two critically, according to the weather service and local officials.

Local officials agreed the number of injuries was not as great as it could have been.

One tornado hit the city of Hodgenville and destroyed or heavily damaged about 20 homes, but would have hit a day care or two schools had the path been a tenth of a mile to the right or left, said Dennis Wells, deputy emergency manager for LaRue County. One woman suffered a broken arm when the tornado hit, he said.

LaRue County Judge-Executive Tommy Turner said he asked for help from the Kentucky National Guard after the storm. Thirty Guard members reported to Hodgenville to provide security against looting, and two people were arrested for looting Thursday, the guard said.

Doug Finley, deputy emergency management director for Hardin County, said the tornado that hit there cut a 4.9-mile, straight path across the county, leapfrogging from one point to another and causing damage each time it touched down. The tornado destroyed or damaged a number of homes and barns, as well as a trucking business.

Paul Carter, emergency management director for McCracken County, said two people there who were critically hurt when the tornado flipped their mobile home were still hospitalized. Carter said county employees were out Thursday clearing farm grain bins and other debris from along roadways.

Crews were doing similar cleanup and repair work in communities across the state as authorities braced for another potential stormy day Friday.

Most of the state faces a moderate risk of damaging high winds and tornadoes Friday afternoon and evening as a low-pressure system sweeps through, and there is a risk of flash flooding in Eastern Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service office in Jackson.

President Barack Obama called Beshear on Thursday about the storm damage and pledged federal help if needed, Beshear's office said.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1 Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255

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