Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 17, 2013

Clean up from tornado continues

By Carson Gerber
MC Weekly

---- — Peru still is cleaning up from an EF-1 tornado that touched down near the city July 10 and left wide-spread damage in its path, including flipped cars, crumbled houses, uprooted trees and downed power lines that knocked out electricity to around 60 percent of the city.

Despite the devastation left after 95-mile-an-hour winds tore through the city, no injuries were reported, according the Peru Police Department.“You have to thank God for that,” said Peru Mayor Jim Walker. “We’re very thankful for that.”

Fallen tree limbs littered every street after the storm, but the city’s west side experienced the worst damage. On West 2nd Street, trees smashed through houses and winds tore off entire roofs and decimated a large backyard garage.

Businesses on West Main Street also sustained massive damage, including Aldi, Arby’s and Wendy’s. The storm turned the drive-in area at B&K into rubble, and smashed cars and trucks into a pile at the Kroger parking lot.

Massive trees more than 100 years old stretched across parts of Maconaquah Park on the city’s south side. Down the road at a mobile-home area off of Ind. 19, a storage trailer lay in pieces after winds blew it over 15 feet away from its foundation.

“For as serious as it could have been, we’re thankful no one got hurt,” said Peru Police Chief Jonie Kennedy.

For Derrick Stapleton, watching the storm descend on his Peru neighborhood was just like the countless he’s seen play out on TV.

“Man, it’s just like on TV,” he said. “I watched it roll down to the ground, just like they say it happens.”

When the skies over Peru went dark, Stapleton said it was only minutes before “it was right on top of us.”

“At first I thought it was a train running out behind the house.”

But when he realized it was the storm barreling down instead, he decided to stop watching and head for the protection of his home’s interior.

“I said, ‘It’s gonna drop down right on Aldi’s,’” he said of the grocery store that neighbors his North Kelly Avenue home. “It seems I was right.”

The store’s parking lot was littered with debris and damaged cars, including an overturned truck pinned next to a car. One vehicle was missing a tire.

The store itself fared only slightly better — its entire facade and signage gone.

A few doors down on Main Street, it was a much different story for Arby’s. The bricks covering the restaurant’s rear exterior wall were piled in the drive-thru lane.

Employees huddled out front to fill the arriving store manager in on what happened.

Connie Garrett was working the register when she noticed a storm rolling in.

“The clouds looked funky and I was telling the drive-thru girl about it when the wind started picking up,” she said. “It just got crazy from there.”

The glass door on the north side of the building burst, covering the dining area in glass and other debris.

All employees and customers were able to ride out the storm safely, Garrett said.

As employees surveyed the damage inside the restaurant, a firefighter asked them to leave because the building was being declared condemned and the area secured. There was fear, the firefighter said, the rear wall was going to buckle and cause the building to collapse.

Store manager Mike Blair said the restaurant will likely be closed for some time to recover from the damage.

“There was no warning,” he said. “It all happened so quickly.”

A few more doors down Main Street, the owner of the west-end B&K at Main Street and Park Road told a similar tale. Marianne Hann, of Peru, said her 15-year-old son was manning the store when the storm hit.

“We were having dinner across town when he called,” she said. “He asked if we were OK, and I said, ‘Yes, why?’ ‘Because the awning and the roof just blew off the B&K.'"

Despite the horrible circumstances, Hann was able to laugh at the way he broke the news to her.

“He was just so calm,” she said.

But, she continued, everyone else at the restaurant was hysterical. They huddled in the bathroom for protection, but that was only until the roof was ripped off, leaving the rain to pour down on them.

They wanted to move to a vehicle, but Hann’s son had the wherewithal to know that was a bad idea and had everyone move to another building, she said.

Good thing, Hann said, pointing to the Jeep in the parking lot smashed by the drive-up restaurant’s large awning. Not a single piece of glass in the SUV was left intact. The restaurant itself also appeared a total loss.

“It’s just stuff,” said Hann, who’s owned the restaurant for roughly a decade. “I can’t imagine if someone had gotten hurt. It’s just stuff.”

All day July 11, street and electric crews toiled to clear debris from streets and get power returned to businesses and residents.

Inmates with Indiana Department of Correction cleared up area parks, where the tornado uprooted trees and littered huge branches all over green spaces.

Park officials said around 30 trees were down on the city’s golf course.

Peru Building Commissioner Tom Harp said at least 10 businesses on the city’s west side sustained damage after the tornado, including Paul Richard’s GM Center.

Winds tore off bumpers from vehicles parked in the dealership’s lot, blowing them into trees more than four blocks away.

He said none of the businesses will be condemned.

Harp said the storm totally destroyed two garages and one trailer. Two homes were condemned and will be torn down, he said. Around five other homes along West 2nd Street also sustained serious damage.

Despite the wide-spread destruction, Peru Mayor Jim Walker said he doesn’t anticipate the state to name the city a disaster area, and locals most likely won’t qualify for FEMA funds or loans.

“If it’s just one home or 100 homes that were damaged, someone is suffering because of this storm,” he said. “To us, it’s a disaster, and we’re going to work with them to get their lives back to normal.”

Harp said the city is waiving all fees for renovation and repair permits to fix storm-damaged homes and businesses.

Walker said residents cleaning up debris from their homes can leave it near the street or on the curb, and crews will pick it up.

“Everyone is cooperating fully and working together,” he said.

Walker said it will likely be four to six weeks before the city can clean up all the downed trees and limbs.

Inmates from Miami Correctional Facility were working in supervised crews both Friday and Monday to clean up downed trees, alongside workers from the city's parks and streets departments. The prison sent 15 inmates each day for the cleanup, along with four guards.

The Miami County Emergency Management Agency is in charge of organizing help for affected residents who don't have homeowners or renter's insurance, Walker added.

Miami County Commissioner Josh Francis said Monday the county has offered assistance to the city, but said so far the city has been able to handle the work without assistance.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.