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March 3 (Bloomberg) -- Dozens of tornadoes cut a path across five states in the U.S. Midwest and South yesterday, smashing houses and damaging schools. At least 27 people were killed, the Associated Press reported.

The storms, the second swarm this week, hit hardest in southern Indiana, northern Kentucky and northern Alabama. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear declared a statewide emergency, allowing municipalities to access state resources for public safety and recovery efforts, according to an e-mailed statement.

Fourteen people died in Indiana, 12 in Kentucky and one in Ohio, AP reported, citing state authorities.

At least 44 tornadoes were reported in five states, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Watches were in effect in nine states, meaning the storms had a good chance of forming. Weather service radar was tracking potential cyclones in Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio.

In Clark County, Indiana, a high school was “extensively damaged,” said Major Chuck Adams of the sheriff’s office.

“There is a lot of extensive damage from Borden, Indiana, in the western part of the county all the way to the eastern part,” Adams said by telephone yesterday. “The hardest hit was Henryville, about 19 miles north of the Ohio River.”

As many as 23,000 customers lost power, according to a statement from the Kentucky governor’s office. Heavy damage was reported in Morgan, Trimble, Pendleton and Kenton counties, according to the statement.

Flash flooding was reported on U.S. 25 and KY 1344 in Middlesboro, Kentucky, the state said.

Tornado Clusters

The outbreak of storms arrived earlier than tornado clusters usually form, Greg Carbin, warning coordinator meteorologist at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said in a telephone interview. These types of storms are more common at the end of March or April, he said.

The tornadoes were also unusually powerful and long-lived, Carbin said.

“These were very strong, violent tornadoes and not only were they strong and violent but they were on the ground for a long period of time,” he said.

The outbreaks are caused in part by warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico feeding large winter-type storms, he said.

Airport Closed

Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport was closed from about 4:30 p.m. to 5:35 p.m. local time yesterday because of debris on the runway, Barbara Schempf, a spokeswoman for the airport in Cincinnati, said in a telephone interview.

“We had to remove debris that came from the storm, papers, and tree limbs and that,” Schempf said. “But we’re back and open.”

Tornadoes also touched down north of Huntsville, Alabama, damaging a high school, said Paige Colburn, an officer with the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

“We’re getting a lot of injury reports and a lot of reports of damage,” Colburn said. She couldn’t say how much damage or how many injuries may have occurred at the school.

Storms in Limestone and Madison counties, Alabama, had destroyed 40 homes and damaged 150 as of 4 p.m. local time yesterday, according to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency’s website. Both counties proclaimed local emergencies, and Madison County opened a Methodist church as a shelter, the agency said.

A 300-yard wide tornado struck near Posey County, Indiana, about 145 miles (248 kilometers) west of Louisville, Kentucky, according to the storm center.

Central U.S.

Tornadoes ripped across the central U.S. earlier this week, killing at least 12 people, according to an e-mailed statement from risk-modeling firm Eqecat in Oakland, California. One of those systems was confirmed to be an EF-4, the second-most powerful. It hit Harrisburg, Illinois, leaving six people dead, according to the storm center.

The same storm system snarled air traffic along the East Coast and brought snow to Boston.

Thunderstorms and tornadoes across the U.S. in 2011 killed at least 552 people, the most in 75 years, and caused $25 billion in insured losses, making them the deadliest type of natural disaster last year, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

From 1991 to 2010, tornadoes caused 30 percent of all catastrophic losses in the U.S., second only to hurricanes, which accounted for 44 percent, according to the institute.

Winter Storms

On the northern side of yesterday’s system, winter storm warnings and advisories were issued for Wisconsin and northern Michigan.

Wind gusts as intense as 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour are expected early today along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, including Buffalo and Cleveland, the weather service said.

In Milwaukee, 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) of snow may fall, and across northern Michigan as much as 8 to 14 inches may be on the ground by today. Chicago rain was expected to change to snow, making travel difficult.

Air traffic delays of more than two hours were reported at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport yesterday, according to the FAA.

The Florida Devision of Emergency Management encouraged residents and visitors in an e-mailed statement to “exercise caution” as the storm system moved into the Florida Panhandle. The system is expected to reach Florida’s Big Bend today and northeast Florida later today, the agency said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at; Lynn Doan in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at

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