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Storms wreck Ind. towns, kill 24 in 3 states

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A semitrailer lies on its side in front of the remains of a gas station following severe storms Friday, March 2, 2012, in Henryville, Ind. Tornadoes ripped across several small southern Indiana towns on Friday, killing at least three people and leaving behind miles of flattened devastation along the border with Kentucky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

HENRYVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Powerful storms leveled small towns in southern Indiana, transforming entire blocks of homes into piles of debris, tossing school buses into a home and a restaurant and causing destruction so severe it was difficult to tell what was once there. As night fell, dazed residents shuffled through town, some looking for relatives, while rescue workers searched the rubble for survivors. Without power, the only light in town came from cars that crawled down the streets.

From the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes, the storms touched nearly all walks of life. A fire station was flattened. Roofs were ripped off schools. A prison fence was knocked down and scores of homes and businesses were destroyed. At least 24 people were killed, including 14 in Indiana and nine in Kentucky, and dozens of others were hurt in the second deadly tornado outbreak this week.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were missing.

The threat of tornadoes was expected to last until late Friday for parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio. Forecasters at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center said the massive band of storms put 10 million people at high risk of dangerous weather.

“We knew this was coming. We were watching the weather like everyone else,” said Clark County, Ind., Sheriff Danny Rodden. “This was the worst case scenario. There’s no way you can prepare for something like this.”

The remains of the Henryville High school are examined by firefighters and residents of Henryville following severe storms that went through the area, Friday, March 2, 2012, in Henryville, Ind. Tornadoes ripped across several small southern Indiana towns on Friday, killing at least three people and leaving behind miles of flattened devastation along the border with Kentucky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

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The remains of the Henryville High school are examined by firefighters and ... more >

In Henryville, the scene was eerie and somewhat chaotic. Cell phones and landlines were not working. Hundreds of firefighters and police zipped around town. Power lines were down and cars were flipped over. People walked down the street with shopping carts full of water and food, handing it out to whoever was in need.

Terry Brishaber said his uncle’s mobile home was gone.

“I don’t see any remnants. I don’t know where it’s at,” he said.

Aerial footage from a TV news helicopter flying over Henryville showed numerous wrecked houses, some with their roofs torn off and many surrounded by debris. The video shot by WLKY in Louisville, Ky., also showed a mangled school bus protruding from the side of a one-story building and dozens of overturned semis strewn around the smashed remains of a truck stop.

“I’m a storm chaser,” said Susie Renner, of Henryville, “and I have never been this frightened before.”

Andy Bell was guarding a demolished garage until his friend could get to the business to retrieve some valuable tools Friday night. He looked around at the devastation, pointing to empty lots between a Catholic church and a Marathon station about a block away.

“There were houses from the Catholic church on the corner all the way to the Marathon station. And now it’s just a pile of rubble, all the way up,” he said. “It’s just a great …”

His voice trailed off, before he finished: “Wood sticks all the way up.”

An Associated Press reporter in Henryville said the high school was destroyed and the second floor had been ripped off the middle school next door. Authorities said school was in session when the tornado hit, but there were only minor injuries there.

Classroom chairs were scattered on the ground outside, trees were uprooted and cars had huge dents from baseball-sized hail.

Ruth Simpson, of nearby Salem, came to the demolished town right after the storm hit, looking for relatives that she hadn’t been able to find.

“I can’t find them,” she said, starting to cry, and then walked away.

The rural town about 20 miles north of Louisville is the home of Indiana’s oldest state forest and the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Col. Harland Sanders.

Ernie Hall, 68, weathered the tornado inside his tiny home near the high school. Hall says he saw the twister coming down the road toward his house, whipping up debris in its path.

He and his wife ran into an interior room and used a mattress to block the door as the tornado struck. It destroyed his car and blew out the picture window overlooking his porch.

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