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Twister cleanup follows 'total devastation' as search for victims wraps up

As the Friday storm that killed dozens dies down, the scale of the damage is hard to comprehend for those cleaning up debris. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

HENRYVILLE, Ind. -- The search for tornado victims was wrapping up Sunday, but the cleanup was only beginning, especially along a 52-mile-long stretch in Indiana where the scene was best described as "total devastation."

With a light snow and cold temperatures adding to the misery in places like hard-hit Henryville, Indiana officials were able to announce that no one else was still reported missing in the state where 12 died. Kentucky was hardest hit, with 20 deaths.

The next phase -- cleanup and providing security -- is just starting, Indiana State Police Sgt. Jerry Gooden told NBC's TODAY show.


"We’ve got about a four or five county area here, about a 50-mile stretch of area … that's total destruction," he said, referring to the fact that a twister with 175 mph winds was on the ground for 52 miles. A second, smaller twister on Friday in the area added to the destruction. 

TODAY's Lester Holt speaks to a man who captured amazing video of one of the tornadoes that ripped through Indiana on Friday.

Crews worked to move downed power lines and clear debris, and residents began putting tarps over torn apart homes to prevent further damage.

Meanwhile, the more fortunate brought donations including diapers, blankets and food to area churches.

"That's what people do. It's no biggie. It's because we care. They are our neighbors," said Brenda Parson as she brought a carload of donations to the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville.

In one sign of hope amid the destruction, a 2-year-old girl, orphaned by the tornado, was found alive but badly hurt in a field in southeast Indiana miles from her home after a twister cut through the area.

How to help tornado victims

The toddler, who remained in critical condition in a Kentucky hospital, was with members of her extended family. But her parents, a 2-month-old sister and a 3-year-old brother, were all killed, said Cis Gruebbel, a spokeswoman for Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville.

Viewers submitted images of the tornado swarm.

The violent storms raised fears that 2012 will be another bad year for tornadoes after 550 deaths were blamed on twisters last year, the deadliest year in nearly a century, according to the National Weather Service.

In the northern Kentucky town of Crittenden, where tornadoes ripped roofs off houses and damaged apartment blocks, low-security prisoners in orange jackets were brought in to help with clean-up efforts.

In another hard-hit Kentucky town, 48-year-old carpenter Kevin Stambaugh described how he survived a twister that killed his two neighbors, who he said were found dead huddled together in their kitchen. He said he also lost 25 horses in the storm.

"The windows were shattered and shards of glass were swirling around near my head," he told Reuters outside a church in the town of Morning View, adding that wind had pushed him down the stairs to his basement and pinned him between a bar and a wall.

At least 300 people came to the Piner Baptist Church, advertised as a relief center, to volunteer after the storm.

"Being from here, born and raised, the hardest thing is knowing that the houses I grew up seeing every day are gone. There are no words," said volunteer Amy Heeger, 38, who works for a car auction company but headed for the church to help out.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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