3 March 2012
Last updated at 12:00 ET
A school bus was propelled into a restaurant in one of the worst affected towns, Henryville
US authorities in four Midwestern states are searching for survivors and clearing damage after a string of powerful storms and tornadoes left at least 31 people dead.
The states of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Alabama were all affected by the intense winds which flattened homes, lifted rooftops and downed powerlines.
An unknown number of people are missing after communication lines were damaged.
A total of 90 tornadoes and 700 severe weather events were reported on Friday.
Correspondents say it will be impossible to make an immediate assessment of the full extent of the damage.
Tornadoes occur all year round in the US, although the strength of this week’s storms was unusual for the time of year – the peak period is March to May in the southern US and later further north.
At least 14 people died in southern Indiana, reports said, and another 13 in neighbouring Kentucky.
The small town of Marysville, Indiana, was almost completely destroyed, with the town’s water tower one of the few buildings to remain undamaged, local reports said.
Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden said that residents had been warned of oncoming storms but added: “This was the worst-case scenario. There’s no way you can prepare for something like this.”
In the town of Henryville, a roof was ripped from a school and a school bus thrown against a restaurant. No-one was seriously injured in either incident.
“We’re not unfamiliar with Mother Nature’s wrath out here in Indiana,” Governor Mitch Daniels told CNN during a visit to the stricken south-eastern corner of the state on Saturday.
“But this is about as serious as we’ve seen in the years since I’ve been in this job,” he said as he viewed the damage in Henryville.
In Chelsea, southern Indiana, three members of one family – including a four-year-old child – died in their house when the storm struck.
The child and mother were huddled in a basement when the storm hit and sucked the child from her arms. The mother survived, but her 70-year-old grandparents, who were upstairs, both died.
“She was in the cellar with the boy when the tornado hit. It blew him right out of her hands,” Tony Williams, the owner of the town’s General Store said.
“They found the bodies in the field outside,” he added, referring to the grandparents.
Three people were reported dead in Ohio while in northern Alabama, one person died.
At least 40 homes were destroyed and 150 damaged in the state while the roof of a prison in the path of the storm was damaged, forcing 300 inmates to be moved to another part of the facility.
Earlier this week, 13 people died after twisters swept through Missouri, Kansas, Illinois and Tennessee.