A day after several vicious storms killed at least 38 people and leveled buildings ripping through the South and Midwest, stories of survival and God's protection began to emerge amid ongoing rescue efforts Saturday.
In a small eastern Kentucky farming town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the Rev. Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church is grateful to God for his family's safety when storms were causing destruction in five states: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.
"We're thankful to God," The Associated Press quoted Jett as saying. "It was a miracle that the five of us survived."
Storms left 19 people dead in Kentucky, 14 in Indiana, three in Ohio, and one each in Alabama and Georgia. The occurrences of deadly tornados that began Friday and continued into the weekend also affected about 17 million people from Texas to Indiana to North Carolina.
Jett and his wife, Jeanene, learned about an approaching storm when they returned to the parsonage from an hour-long trip out of the city. Having seen a warning on the television, the pastor yelled to his wife that they needed to take shelter in the basement of the church next door. Two church members who were cleaning the church and a neighbor joined them. As they ran for the basement stairs, they could see the funnel cloud approaching.
"I just heard this terrific noise," Jeanene recalled. "The windows were blowing out as I came down the stairs." The building collapsed, but they were able to get out through a basement door. They sustained only minor injuries.
Todd and Julie Money, residents of Scottsburg, Ind., are also thankful. As their house didn't have a basement, they fled to the basement of a friend's restaurant when a tornado struck. A school bus parked nearby tossed several hundred yards into the side of the restaurant. "Unreal. The pressure on your body, your ears pop, trees snap," Todd Money said. "When that bus hit the building, we thought it exploded." Julie Money added that it was "petrifying."
"God put us here for a reason," she said.
In Henryville, Ind., the principal of an elementary school is thanking God for protecting about 40 students who couldn't go home and prayed as twisters approached, according to CNN. "It's a blessing. We praise God" that no one was hurt, said the principal, Glenn Riggs.
In Salem, Ind., rescuers found a two-year-old baby girl in a field, about 10 miles from her family's home in New Pekin. Authorities had no idea how the baby ended up in the field. The baby survived the storm but was in a critical condition. Her family had reportedly died in the storm. The baby was initially taken to St. Vincent Salem Hospital, and then to Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Ky.
The White House said Saturday that President Barack Obama had been briefed by FEMA director Craig Fugate, and the agency would be willing to provide assistance to state recovery efforts. Obama also offered condolences for those killed.
"Our priority, as always, is to make sure that we are here to support local efforts to keep residents and communities safe," Fugate said in a separate statement. "FEMA has teams on the ground in hard hit areas and is prepared to deploy additional teams and resources if needed by the state."