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Strong storms and tornadoes leave at least 3 dead and destroy buildings in Indiana and Ohio

Damaging storms and tornadoes swept through Indiana and Ohio on Thursday evening, leaving at least three people dead, destroying parts of towns and prompting search and rescue efforts, officials said.

“I can best describe it as a bomb going off … unbelievable damage,” Sheriff Randall Dodds of Logan County, Ohio, told CNN on Friday morning.

An EF3 tornado hit Logan County, killing three people, Dodds said. It was one of more than a half dozen tornadoes across six states, including an EF3 in Winchester, Indiana, which destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.

Survey teams from the National Weather Service were still combing through the wreckage Friday and could find evidence of more tornadoes, or the tornadoes were even stronger.

“Nothing prepared me in regard to what we’d been hearing and (seeing) in the pictures to actually seeing the damage,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said. “There is a tremendous amount of damage here,” DeWine said after touring the Indian Lake community in Logan County on Friday.

Storm damage is seen in Winchester, Indiana, on March 15, 2024. - Bill Kirkos/CNN
Storm damage is seen in Winchester, Indiana, on March 15, 2024. - Bill Kirkos/CNN

The storms injured at least 38 people in Indiana and more than 20 in Ohio, officials said.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says he was impressed by how selfless people were after such devastation.

“Neighbors were bringing their chain saws and generators to help those who needed them. You see the resilience in the commitment to each other,” Husted said.

Approximately 19 people were treated Thursday night for weather-related injuries in the Mary Rutan Health facility in Logan County, a spokesperson for the facility said. Parts of Logan County suffered “a significant amount of damage,” the county emergency management agency said, with Indian Lake, Lakeview and Russells Point particularly hard hit.

DeWine also took the time to thank first responders and the community for coming together to help their fellow neighbors.

The Ohio governor added the Indian Lake community will come back. “That’s the message I got from everybody. We will be back; we are coming back,” DeWine said.

Damage was also significant in Indiana. Up to half of the buildings in Selma – a town of about 700 people near Winchester – appear damaged in the wake of a severe thunderstorm which may have brought a tornado, the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency said.

More than 30 million people from Texas to South Carolina are at risk Friday for severe storms capable of producing large hail, damaging wind gusts, heavy rainfall and a few tornadoes. Parts of Texas, Alabama and Mississippi have the greatest chance for severe weather.

‘Complete devastation’

Amber Fagan rushed to the village of Lakeview in Logan County on Thursday night after a friend described a scene of “complete devastation,” Fagan said.

“Buildings that were once there are no longer there. The buildings that are still standing either have their roofs blown off or their windows are gone,” Fagan, the president and CEO of the Indian Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, told CNN on Friday.

She said her friend’s business is gone and the library and another city building were also damaged. A nearby house was on fire and another was “completely leveled,” Fagan said.

A Logan County sheriff walks down a road Friday following Thursday's severe storm, in Lakeview, Ohio. - Joshua A. Bickel/AP
A Logan County sheriff walks down a road Friday following Thursday's severe storm, in Lakeview, Ohio. - Joshua A. Bickel/AP

Fagan said she’s heard from some local business owners who’ve offered to open up their properties for shelters and other assistance.

Alena Roberts shared video from Lakeview which appeared to show damaged buildings along a road. She was heading home from her second-grader’s concert at a school when the weather worsened, she said.

“It was terrifying. … Tornado sirens were going off,” she said. After she got home, she could tell the worst portion of the storm hit “because the wind and rain was so loud – I’ve never heard (it) that loud before.”

Tyler Schmitt helps clean up his brother's home after a tornado struck Lakeview, Ohio, Thursday. - Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Network
Tyler Schmitt helps clean up his brother's home after a tornado struck Lakeview, Ohio, Thursday. - Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA Today Network

An EF1 tornado also struck part Mercer County in west-central Ohio, according to a preliminary report by the weather service in Wilmington, Ohio.

The impacted area is mostly farmland, and at least one home and one hog barn were damaged, Mike Robbins, the county emergency management director, told CNN by phone.

To the east, outside the Mercer County seat of Celina, a storm damaged several trailer homes and three people sustained minor injuries, Robbins said.

‘We just prayed a Hail Mary’

In Winchester, Indiana, state police were helping with search and rescue efforts after a “damaging tornado” struck the area, and temporary shelters have been set up for residents, agency spokesperson Sgt. Scott Keegan said on social media.

The EF3 tornado injured more than three dozen people in Winchester, but there were no deaths reported, according to Randolph County emergency officials. Three of those injured were believed to be in critical condition, Mayor Bob McCoy said Friday morning.

Twenty-two homes were destroyed and 110 others were badly damaged, the mayor said.

Storm damage is seen in Winchester, Indiana, on March 15, 2024. - Bill Kirkos/CNN
Storm damage is seen in Winchester, Indiana, on March 15, 2024. - Bill Kirkos/CNN

Jacob Hudson and his children were at a Walmart in Winchester when the tornado bore down Thursday night.

“Everyone’s cell phones went off at the same time for a tornado warning,” Hudson said. An employee directed Hudson and his children to shelter in a family restroom.

“After about 10 minutes we opened the door thinking nothing was gonna happen,” Hudson said. But then, a Walmart employee “came running in at us screaming ‘it’s hitting right now!’” Hudson shut the door.

They heard wind and banging sounds as the power went out and emergency lights came on. “We were all crouched down with our heads covered. My kids were crying and screaming,” he added.

An overturned vehicle in Winchester, Indiana, after severe weather impacted the area Thursday. - Bill Kirkos/CNN
An overturned vehicle in Winchester, Indiana, after severe weather impacted the area Thursday. - Bill Kirkos/CNN

“We just prayed a Hail Mary and about the time we did one it was over,” Hudson said – about 30 to 45 seconds.

Once the noise had stopped and the family retreated from their shelter, Hudson said he saw “crazy debris,” downed power lines and smelled a possible gas leak. “The parking lot was littered with sheet metal, plywood, carts everywhere,” Hudson said.

Damage also seen in Kentucky

Over 100 structures along with other infrastructure and utilities were damaged in Kentucky by severe storms Thursday night, according to state officials.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon in response to damage from severe storms, according to the news release.

“A couple of minor injuries” and no fatalities were reported in the state, according to the release.

Milton, Kentucky, near the Indiana border saw “considerable damage” from the storms, the fire department said.

“Please avoid Milton if at all possible,” Milton Fire and Rescue said in a social media post Thursday.

Jessie Perez and her aunt, Rebecca Aldridge, hid in a closet when severe weather came through Milton, Kentucky, on Thursday. - Michael Clevenger/Courier Journa/USA Today Network
Jessie Perez and her aunt, Rebecca Aldridge, hid in a closet when severe weather came through Milton, Kentucky, on Thursday. - Michael Clevenger/Courier Journa/USA Today Network

Across the Ohio River in Jefferson County, Indiana, homes were damaged and trees and power lines were knocked down after a reported tornado moved through Thursday, Sgt. Stephen Wheeles of the Indiana State Police posted on X.

CNN Weather says a tornado was observed in the area along the Ohio River.

Crews work to clean up after a reported tornado touched down Thursday in Milton, Kentucky. - Michael Clevenger/Courier Journa/USA Today Network
Crews work to clean up after a reported tornado touched down Thursday in Milton, Kentucky. - Michael Clevenger/Courier Journa/USA Today Network

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Sarah Engel, David Williams, Andy Rose, Taylor Ward, Raja Razek, Andy Rose, Jamiel Lynch, Jason Hanna, Caroll Alvarado and Mary Gilbert contributed to this report.

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