By John D. Stoll
WEST LIBERTY, Kentucky (Reuters) - A winter snowstorm and freezing temperatures on Monday hampered clean-up efforts in Indiana and Kentucky, the states hardest hit by a wave of powerful tornadoes and storms that killed dozens of people.
Three to five inches of snow fell in southern Indiana and north-central Kentucky, where recovery efforts were underway after at least 30 tornadoes ripped through the region on Friday, the National Weather Service said.
In West Liberty, Kentucky, emergency and security personnel, insurance inspectors, business owners and their employees gathered on the main street to assess the damage amid fears heavy wet snow would cause weakened buildings to collapse.
"Anything we can do to get back to normal business, (residents) will see that as a reason to believe we can recover," said Linda Oakley, who visited the damaged flower shop where she works, accompanied by her husband and firefighters.
The storms and tornadoes that struck the Midwest and South on Friday splintered blocks of homes and tossed around vehicles like toys. They came on the heels of severe weather that killed about a dozen people earlier in the week.
Officials said at least 39 people died in the latest wave of storms - 21 in Kentucky, 13 in Indiana, three in Ohio and one in Alabama. Georgia also reported a storm-related death.
Among the dead was a 14-month-old girl who succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday, two days after she was found in a field after a tornado hit the New Pekin, Indiana, area. Nearby lay the lifeless bodies of her parents and two siblings.
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said on Sunday the storm had caused at least $5.8 million in property damage. He has signed an executive order barring price gouging for food and other necessities.
HARD TO FORECAST
The destruction raised fears that 2012 would be another bad tornado season in the United States. A total of 550 deaths were blamed on twisters last year, the deadliest in nearly a century, according to the National Weather Service.
Greg Carbin, a meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's storm prediction center, said tornadoes often formed in March and April but added that it was hard to predict how severe the 2012 season would be.
Tornadoes typically occur in the United States between March and July, when warm, moist air meets cooler, dry air in the atmosphere. Some parts of the country experience a late tornado season in autumn.
"There's nothing that points at something above or below normal," Carbin said.
The weather in hard-hit areas, however, was expected to begin improving on Monday. The snowstorm was moving east and expected to drop up to three inches of snow in Virginia and in West Virginia before heading out to sea by evening.
"A high-pressure system will give clean-up crews tranquil weather through at least the middle part of the week," said Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist at AccuWeather.com. "A gradual warm-up supported by plenty of sunshine will follow."
(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Paul Simao)