Tornado probably traveled more than 90 miles in Kentucky and W. Virginia

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMarch 5, 2012 

  • PATH OF DESTRUCTION

    Graphic plots the routes of two deadly twisters: The graphic


  • Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke about Kentucky's deadly storms, including his visit to his West Liberty, during a floor speech in the Senate Monday.

A killer tornado probably traveled more than 90 miles as it shredded houses and toppled trees in a path that stretched 60 miles through Kentucky and more than 30 miles into West Virginia, according to the National Weather Service.

The tornado started in Menifee County, then ripped through Morgan County, the northern tip of Johnson County and Lawrence County before crossing into West Virginia, said Shawn Harley, chief meteorologist for the Jackson office of the weather service.

The tornado continued through two West Virginia counties, Harley said. When the Jackson and Charleston, W.Va., weather service offices confer on Tuesday, Harley said, the official path of the tornado is expected to extend as much as 93 miles. At its peak, the storm was an EF3 tornado, with wind speeds as high as 165 mph and a maximum width of a mile.

The tornado's length would not be a national record, but "for our area it will be, no doubt," Harley said.

Nearby, a tornado that went through Magoffin, Johnson and Martin counties extended about a mile into West Virginia, bringing the tornado's total length to 48 or 49 miles, according to the Jackson office's Web site. That tornado was three-quarters of a mile wide at its maximum.

Those tornados and others in the state had claimed 22 lives by Monday afternoon, Kentucky officials said.

The newest total included a woman who died when Friday's high winds threw her car over six lanes of traffic on Interstate 75 in Northern Kentucky, according to Kenton County Deputy Coroner Ronald Lubbe.

Lubbe said a resident taking photographs of storm damage Saturday morning discovered the body of Courtney Stephenson, 42, of Pendleton County. Stephenson was found in her vehicle in a wooded area near the interstate, Lubbe said.

Stephenson had been in Indianapolis undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer and was returning home when she was caught in a tornado, said her brother Lindsey Pyron of Cincinnati.

The total also included a Menifee County man who died Sunday from injuries he suffered in a fall Saturday while trying to clean up storm damage, Kentucky Emergency Management spokeswoman Monica French said.

Vershal Brown, 79, died at 6:19 p.m. Sunday at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, Fayette County Deputy Coroner John McCarty said.

Brown fell Saturday at his daughter's storm-damaged home, McCarty said.

"A door that led down a set of stairs ... gave way," he said.

The death total now includes three deaths in Menifee, six in Morgan County, two in Lawrence County, two in Johnson County, five in Laurel County and four in Kenton County, French said.

An earlier total of seven deaths in Morgan was reduced to six. James West of West Liberty was initially included because he died at Morgan County Appalachian Regional Hospital about the time the storm struck, but it was later determined that his injuries were not related to the storm, Morgan County Coroner Raymond VanCleave said.

The injury total remained at 300, officials said. Ten storm victims remained in University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital on Monday evening, spokeswoman Kristi Lopez said.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Kentuckians were without power as of 3 p.m. Monday in the wake of the tornadoes and several inches of heavy, wet snowfall early Monday in some portions of the state. That total was down from more than 18,000 earlier in the day.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission reported that 5,652 customers who lost power after Friday's tornadoes remained without electricity as of 3 p.m., mostly in Morgan, Magoffin, Martin, Johnson and Lawrence counties in Eastern Kentucky.

Also, 4,659 were without power Monday afternoon after snow blanketed much of Central and Eastern Kentucky, including about 4 inches of snow in tornado-ravaged West Liberty and Salyersville.

A total of 387 National Guard members were deployed Monday morning in Johnson, Kenton, Laurel, Magoffin, Menifee, Morgan and Pendleton counties.

"They're attempting to do whatever needs to be done," said Guard Spec. Michael May. Work included providing security and assisting victims, May said.

Monday morning's snow storm might make it more difficult for telephone and power crews to get service back up in Eastern Kentucky, said Andrew Melnykovch, a spokesman for the Public Service Commission.

Telephone service remains out in large portions of Morgan and Magoffin counties, where tornadoes downed land lines and cellphone towers, Melnykovch said.

"It's going to take a few days to sort through all of the telecommunications problems,' Melnykovch said. "Wireless service is going to come back fairly quickly."

Mountain Rural, a major provider of land-line and cellphone service in the area, has three downed cell towers in the area, he said. The company hoped to have temporary towers in place sometime Monday, he said.

Melnykovch said Friday's tornadoes caused more extensive damage than previous ice storms, but in a limited area.

"You have very severe damage in a concentrated area," Melnykovch said. "With an ice storm, the damage is spread out over a large area and is mostly to the overhead lines."

Power crews in Morgan County will have to rebuild the entire power grid, he said.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, led the state's congressional delegation in signing a letter to President Obama in support of Beshear's request for a federal emergency declaration.

"Our region has never suffered the level of catastrophic loss and damage in one single day, as we did last Friday," Rogers said. "While the damage is widespread, so is the determination of our people to recover and succeed."

In all, 28 counties and three cities had declared a state of emergency.

Several state agencies announced relief for storm victims.

Kentuckians displaced by storms who receive health care benefits through Medicaid can get a 30-day supply of needed medicines from their pharmacy, said the Department for Medicaid Services. Co-payments for these prescriptions will be waived.

The right to receive an emergency refill applies only to residents of counties that have declared a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, the state Division of Waste Management said 31 Kentucky counties are eligible to apply for grants of $50,000 to help cover the cost of disposing solid waste from tornado damage. The deadline for application is March 15.

Kentuckians affected by the tornadoes should contact or watch for information from their county's solid waste coordinator on where to drop off solid waste, the state agency said.

In Morgan County, the state Department of Community Based Services office has been temporarily moved because of storm damage. Customers who need information about food benefits, medical assistance and other services can visit DCBS family support staff at the former Wrigley Elementary School building at 87 Redwine Road in West Liberty.

Linda J. Johnson and Beth Musgrave contributed to this story.

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