Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 18, 2013

Governor, federal officials tour Kokomo

By Scott Smith
Kokomo Tribune

Kokomo —

Freda Smith was trying to get back to her bedroom when the storm took part of the roof off her South Bell Street home. Standing in the hallway next to her bathroom, the 91-year-old was shaken but unharmed.

Brian Harless, his wife, Jennifer, and their kids took shelter in an underground bunker they'd installed a couple years ago behind their Cedar Crest house. No one was hurt.

And Nathan Brandon watched as what he's pretty sure was a funnel cloud come down at the corner of Poplar and LaFountain Street. He had barely enough time to get to his basement before the roof tore off.

"You could feel it lift up the house," Brandon said. "We heard on the radio it was 7 and a half minutes out. It didn't take 7 and a half minutes to get here."

Dianne Huffman was walking the area around Bell and Ricketts streets, looking for her long-haired tabby, Trixie. She'd been in a front bedroom with her husband, watching as the storm worsened, possibly too curious for her own good.

"I heard a roar, and I said, 'This is the best storm we've ever been in. Then I kind of realized it was too much for us,'" she said. By the time they opened the bedroom door, the roof was gone and the north wall had partially collapsed.

Again and again Monday, the officials in Kokomo to survey the damage had one consistent comment: It was incredibly fortunate no one was seriously hurt or killed by whatever hit Kokomo.

"I haven't seen such devastation in a long, long time," Gov. Mike Pence said. Kokomo was the first stop on Pence's damage tour of the state Monday, but the governor said he didn't expect to see anything worse.

From just west of Webster Street, through the Maple Crest shopping area, through the 1900 blocks of Bell and LaFountain streets, through several businesses along Hoffer, past U.S. 31, through the Cedar Crest subdivision and finally across Goyer Road into the Quail Run subdivision, the storm destroyed.

No one seriously doubted it was a tornado, but the National Weather Service was surveying damage Monday to make sure.

Kokomo city officials, who were up all night coordinating assistance and cleanup efforts, said 32 people went to local emergency rooms, and only five were admitted. None of those injuries were serious.

It was the worst storm to hit Kokomo since the deadly 1965 Palm Sunday tornado, and it took a very similar path through town. Businesses hit included Chrysler and the Hewlett Packard building on East Hoffer Street. Somewhere between 50 and 60 homes were hit, many of which were destroyed.