West Liberty (US): Rescue workers with search dogs trudged through the hills of Kentucky, and emergency crews in several states combed through wrecked homes in a desperate search for survivors of tornadoes that killed dozens of people in the US Midwest and South.

But amid the flattened homes, gutted churches and crunched up cars, startling stories of survival emerged, including that of a 2-year-old girl found alone but alive in a field near her Indiana home after her family was killed, a couple who were hiding in a restaurant basement when a school bus crashed through the wall, and a pastor nearly buried in his church's basement.

The storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed at least 38 people in five states Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, where Gov 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 recognizable.

The Rev Kenneth Jett of the West Liberty United Methodist Church recalled huddling with four others in a little cubby hole in the basement as the church collapsed in the storm.

The pastor and his wife had just returned to the parsonage from a trip to a city about an hour away when he turned on the TV and saw that the storm was coming. Jett yelled to his wife that they needed to take shelter in the basement of the church next door.

They were joined by two congregants who were cleaning the church and a neighbor. As they ran for the basement stairs, they could see the funnel cloud approaching.

(Agencies)