SULLIVAN, Ind. – The National Weather Service confirmed nine tornadoes touched down in Indiana and killed at least five people during a severe weather outbreak that spawned violent tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail across the Midwest and South on Friday.
The five deaths occurred in Sullivan County when an EF-3 tornado with winds of 155 mph touched down just before 10:30 p.m. EDT Friday night. The NWS office in Indianapolis said the twister was on the ground for just under 9 miles before it dissipated.
"It did a lot of devastation - knocking down power lines, knocking down trees, taking houses off their foundation and demolishing the VFW for Sullivan County," Indiana State Police Sgt. Matt Ames told FOX Weather.
Sullivan County Sheriff Jason Bobbitt said the towns of Sullivan and New Lebanon sustained heavy damage, with homes in both the city and county severely damaged and some completely leveled.
Ames said the five deaths were from people in their homes, and search and rescue efforts are ongoing.
"Right now, we've got an RV that's sitting on top of a house; we've got vehicles picked up and thrown into local corn fields," Ames said. "It's going to be very slow, meticulous work for our first responders to get in and do a more thorough search."
But Ames credited the tight-night community for coming together in the wake of the tragedy.
"We live in small community," he said. "The people volunteered, coming out to locate people and making sure they were OK."
A state of emergency has been declared for the affected areas, Bobbitt said. Sullivan City Hall and area churches have been opened up as safe shelters.
In total, the NWS office in Indianapolis said nine tornadoes touched down in Indiana on Friday night, with the Sullivan County tornado being the strongest.
Another EF-3 tornado touched down in Owen and Monroe counties. The twister's winds peaked at 138 mph and traveled just over 4 miles. Officials say that two people died and two were injured from this storm.
An EF-2 tornado with winds of 135 mph touched down near Whiteland in Johnson County and was on the ground for about 3.5 miles.
The NWS said an EF-1 tornado with winds of 110 mph touched down near Colfax in Clinton County, and another EF-1 touched down in eastern Howard County.
Three EF-0 tornadoes also touched down, according to the NWS. Those weaker tornadoes had winds between 80 and 85 mph and touched down in Johnson and Howard counties.