By John D. Stoll
CRITTENDEN, Kentucky (Reuters) - When a tornado ripped through the rural Kentucky community of Crittenden on Friday afternoon it tore apart neighborhoods, threw crushed cars into houses and left homes in ruins.
But nobody was killed locally during the swarm of tornadoes that touched down across the U.S. Midwest and Southeast, leaving at least 36 dead -- and for that residents are thankful.
"We feel blessed in every way," Grant County Emergency Management Director Richard Willoby told Reuters.
More than 60 homes were damaged in Crittenden, a town of about 2,500 people located 30 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, when a tornado moved through on Friday, overturning tractor-trailer rigs on the interstate highway and sending residents scrambling for shelter.
The death toll in Kentucky elsewhere stood at 18 as of Saturday afternoon.
Derrick Halt, who drives a plumbing and heating service truck, says he was driving home from work when he saw the damage and realized that he was following just a few minutes behind the twister.
"I said, 'oh my God.' I just wanted to make sure my wife was OK," Halt said.
She was, having taken refuge in a bathroom, but was in shock with Halt got home, unable to believe what had just happened.
Halt, who in surveying the destruction at first thought that some of his neighbors must have been killed, said 200-year-old trees had been snapped in half behind his home.
Power was still out in some areas a day later, with some roads and businesses closed.
Taking part in the town's recovery effort were 22 prisoners from a nearby low-security correctional facility who pulled debris from neighborhoods.
"Everybody is just rushing right now to get all of this cleaned up in case the weather changes again," said Grant County Corrections Capt. Richard Clise, who was supervising the inmates.
(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Bohan)