"We won't know what's going on before daybreak," said Maj. Chuck Adams of the Clark County Sheriff's Department after confirming one person had died in hard-hit Henryville. "Right now, we're getting by through the night as best we can."
The twisters tossed debris onto roadways across the wide area north of Louisville, Ky., making it difficult for rescue workers and others to get to communities damaged by a line of powerful storms that wreaked havoc in several states and killed at least 20 people.
"I'm a storm chaser," said Susie Renner, 54, of hard-hit Henryville, "and I have never been this frightened before."
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who planned to tour the damage Saturday, said in a statement he was "hopeful of soon knowing the full extent of the damage but it will be tomorrow before we can give a final report with any confidence."
Initial reports from Henryville and nearby Marysville were ones of devastation.
"Marysville is completely gone," Clark County Sheriff's Maj. Chuck Adams told The Associated Press. Fire officials said at least five people were injured in the town, one of many littered with bent utility poles and downed trees.
State Joint Information Center spokesman Jet Quillen said at least three people were killed in Scott County. Two people also were killed in Holton in Ripley County, including a man from Mexico who was visiting friends, said Indiana State Police Sgt. Noel Houze Jr.
Indiana State Police Master Trooper Rick Stockdale said four people were killed in the Chelsea area in Jefferson County. Stockdale said a man, woman and their 4-year-old great-grandchild died in one house, and another man was killed in his home a short distance away.
Four people also had been killed in Washington County, Indiana State Police Sgt. Rod Russell said late Friday. He didn't have details about where they were or how they died.
Few recognizable structures remained to the southwest in Henryville, where the high school's roof was sheared off and all three of the town's schools were destroyed, Indiana State Police Sgt. Manville Nagle said.
Sara Reschar of West Clark Community Schools said only a handful of students were in the high school when the tornado struck. The rest had been sent home for the day.
"Thank God, or they all would have been gone," she said.
Nagle said many people were injured, but most reported cuts, bruises and broken bones. Doctors, nurses and paramedics were converging on the town to help.
Power was out and the only visible lights after dark were vehicles inching through town. Nagle said the area was calm and rescue crews planned to search through the night for others who were trapped or injured.
Ernie Hall, 68, weathered the tornado inside his tiny home near the high school. Hall says he saw the twister coming down the road toward his house, whipping up debris in its path.
"There was no mistaking what it was," Hall said.
Images from WLKY showed a mangled school bus protruding from the side of a one-story Henryville building where it appeared to have been tossed. Aerial views showed dozens of overturned semis strewn around the smashed remains of a truck stop.
Hope McHone, came to Henryville from Salem and was frantically trying to find her sister and nephew.
"I've been trying to get a hold of her for an hour and a half," McHone said. "I'm really worried."