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Tornado-Ravaged States Face Exploitation of Destruction

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As if digging out of the rubble of deadly tornadoes were not enough of a challenge, Midwest residents and cleanup crews now have to work around people trying to exploit the destruction.

Such opportunists come in many forms, including looters, tornado tourists, fraudulent charities and contractors looking to capitalize.

"Unfortunately, it's that way and it's been that way," Albert Hale, emergency manager for Laurel County, Ky., said.  "It's a part of society."

Officials stopped a vehicle that had a large amount of copper in it, Hale said, adding that authorities have prevented wide-scale looting with heightened police presence.  But not all places have been exempt from stealing.

Sherman Sykes, 70, was grilling a hamburger at Budroe's Family Restaurant, which he owns with his partner of 32 years, Maureen Williams, when he heard the warning for all residents of Henryville, Ind., to take cover.

Before Sykes went to take cover in the basement, he saw a yellow school bus from the high school across the street get sucked into the air and pulled toward the restaurant.  It slammed into the restaurant's parking lot and flipped over before Sykes rushed to the basement.

All nine customers as well as Sykes and his family were uninjured, but he is missing the restaurant's money bag they were preparing to deposit and several shipments of food products that had been delivered that morning.

Sykes said he did not want to accuse anyone of stealing and that the items could have been swept away in the tornado, but it is likely that they were stolen.

Hale said a more prevalent problem has been tornado tourists and others looking to get a glimpse of the destruction.

"Everyone wants to go see the devastation.  'If I'm not affected, I want to go see what happened to you.'  They're being nosy," Hale said.  "We've taken issue with that."

Local law enforcement, Kentucky State Police and the National Guard, in addition to other agencies, have created checkpoints to prevent curious photographers and out-of-towners from interfering with cleanup or even risking injury.

"Another large problem is contractors kind of freelancing and wanting to get in the neighborhood to go door-to-door to see if they could get any work," Grant County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Maines said, speaking about Crittenden, Ky.

Officials don't want these potential hustlers "knocking on doors as people are trying to pick up their belongings and figure out what happened," he added.

Amid all the loss, many people near and far are looking for ways to give back, but being cautioned that disasters often give way for fraudulent charities to attempt to take advantage of people.

"Givers should take steps to assure themselves that their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help victims," the Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance said in a statement.

Officials advise potential donors to verify the charity's accountability, as well as to learn how and when they will be using the donations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio