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Storms kill at least 38 across central US states

WEST LIBERTY, Kentucky -- Rescue workers with search dogs trudged through the hills of Kentucky, and emergency crews in several states combed through wrecked homes in a desperate search Saturday for survivors of tornadoes that killed dozens of people in the U.S. Midwest and South.

But amid the flattened homes, gutted churches and crunched up cars, startling stories of survival emerged, including that of a 2-year-old girl found alone but alive in a field near her Indiana home after her family was killed, a couple who were hiding in a restaurant basement when a school bus crashed through the wall, and a pastor nearly buried in his church's basement.

The storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed at least 38 people in five states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich proclaimed an emergency. President Barack Obama offered Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance as state troopers, the National Guard and rescue teams made their way through counties cut off by debris-littered roads and toppled cellphone towers.

The landscape was littered with everything from sheet metal and insulation to crushed cars and, in one place, a fire hydrant, making travel difficult.

West Liberty

No building was left untouched in West Liberty, a small eastern Kentucky farming town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Two white police cruisers had been picked up and tossed into city hall, and few structures were recognizable.

The Rev. Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church recalled huddling with four others in a little cubby hole in the basement as the church collapsed in the storm.

Jett yelled to his wife that they needed to take shelter in the basement of the church next door. They were joined by two congregants and a neighbor. As they ran for the basement stairs, they could see the funnel cloud approaching.

The last one down was Jett's wife, Jeanene.

“I just heard this terrific noise,” she said. “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 escaped with only bumps and bruises.

“We're thankful to God,” Jett said.

New Pekin

In southern Indiana, a toddler was found alone in a field near her family's home after a tornado hit in New Pekin. Authorities learned Saturday she is the sole survivor of her immediate family, said Cis Gruebbel, a spokeswoman for Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Kemtucky.

The girl's mother, father, 2-month-old sister and 2-year-old brother all died Friday, Gruebbel said. She is in critical condition with extended family members at the hospital, and authorities are still trying to figure out how she ended up in the field.

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Melody Zollman finds a stuffed bear as she looks through the rubble of her home that was destroyed by a tornado, as residents attempt to recover their possessions in Henryville, Indiana, Saturday. (AP)

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