A two-year-old girl, who survived a devastating tornado in the U.S. that killed most of her family members, is in critical condition.

The unidentified toddler with blond hair and blue eyes was found lying among the bodies in a field near her Indiana home in New Pekin.

A hospital spokesman said the toddler's parents, 3-year-old brother and 2-month-old sister were killed.

Wrecked homes

Workers with search dogs trudged through the hills of Kentucky, and emergency crews in several states combed through wrecked homes in a desperate search on Saturday for survivors.

The storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed at least 38 people in five states Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, where Governor John Kasich proclaimed an emergency. President Barack Obama offered Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance as state troopers, the National Guard and rescue teams made their way through counties cut off by debris-littered roads and toppled cellphone towers.

The landscape was littered with everything from sheet metal and insulation to crushed cars and, in one place, a fire hydrant, making travel difficult.

No building was left untouched in West Liberty, a small eastern Kentucky farming town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Two white police cruisers had been picked up and tossed into city hall, and few structures were recognisable.

A twister demolished Henryville, Indiana, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harland Sanders. The second storey of the elementary school was torn off, and wind blew out the windows and gutted the Henryville Community Presbyterian Church. Few recognisable buildings remained.

A secretary at the school said a bus left on Friday afternoon with 11 children, but the driver turned back after realising they were driving straight into the storm. The children were ushered into the nurse's station and were hiding under tables and desks when the tornado struck. None was hurt.

The bus, which was parked in front of the school, was tossed several hundred yards (metres) into the side of a nearby restaurant.

Two people were hiding there, having fled their Scottsburg home, which has no basement. They were in the basement of their friend's restaurant when the tornado struck. “Unreal. The pressure on your body, your ears pop, trees snap,” one of them said. “When that bus hit the building, we thought it exploded.”

“It was petrifying,” said the other. “God put us here for a reason.”

More severe storms were expected across parts of southern Georgia and northern Florida.

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