KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — In a central Indiana city where trees were sheared off at their stumps by one of several tornadoes in the region, residents began the hard work Thursday of cleaning up destroyed or damaged homes and businesses.
The EF3 tornado packing winds of up to 165 mph that swept through the south side of Kokomo, Indiana, on Wednesday afternoon toppled a Starbucks coffee shop and tore apart numerous homes. One of them belonged to 45-year-old Mark Martinez, who was out picking up his daughter from school and returned to find everything but the bedrooms on one side of his house destroyed.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence hugged and chatted with residents in a neighborhood where the damage seemed to skip some homes altogether. Pence credited quick thinking and early warnings of the approaching storm for the lack of serious injuries; Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said only 10 to 15 residents in the city 40 miles north of Indianapolis had minor injuries.
“It’s a miracle and it’s a testament to good common sense,” Pence said.
Cheryl Swyers said she huddled in a hallway closet with her 2-year-old granddaughter as the tornado struck.
“It sounded like it lasted forever, but I’m sure it wasn’t,” Swyers said. “The house shook. You could hear things flying around outside.”
Her house was spared from major damage. But the tornado demolished most of the home across the street belonging to Martinez, who left to pick up his daughter from school minutes before the tornado tore through.
When they returned, his daughter was distraught because their dog was still inside the rubble of the home. After some digging, Martinez found the dog alive.
Martinez said he hadn’t mentally processed the events.
“It’s crazy,” was all he could muster.
The Kokomo tornado was one of several that swept through central and northern Indiana and northwest Ohio on Wednesday.
In Ohio, damage was reported in four counties, including Van Wert County, where officials said at least two tornadoes touched down about two miles apart, tearing roofs off homes and flattening barns. A tornado warning also briefly stopped KISS from shouting out loud during a show at Toledo, Ohio, though there was no touchdown.
As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service had confirmed that at least seven tornadoes hit Indiana during Wednesday’s outbreak, five of them in central Indiana and two others in northeastern Indiana. But surveys were continuing and the storm tally was expected to rise, said Mike Ryan, a weather service meteorologist in Indianapolis.
Some houses and farm buildings were damaged by storms in rural areas near Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Montgomery County community of Mace, about 35 miles northwest of Indianapolis.
About 220 people stayed overnight in a temporary shelter in Kokomo, Mayor Greg Goodnight said Thursday. Police were restricting access to storm-damaged neighborhoods, saying residents must show identification to gain access.
Utility companies reported about 25,000 homes and businesses in the Kokomo area lost electricity from the storm, though power was restored to more than half by Thursday afternoon.
Heidi Otiker lives on a block that was hit Wednesday, as well as by a tornado in November 2013.
“It could have been far worse. God has a master plan. I believe this all happens for a reason. It sucks at the moment. Our houses and our material things can be replaced,” she said. “But this time, no fatalities, no injuries, and we are all still here.”
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