SAFETY AT STARBUCKS

Angel Ramos was working as the shift manager at Starbucks along Indiana 931 when a tornado alert came up on his phone.

He took the alert seriously, since around 20 customers were inside sipping coffee.

Ramos called his boss, who told him to start getting ready in case a tornado came through, so he grabbed a first-aid kit and kept an eye on his phone for more alerts.

Then he looked out the window. The sky across the parking lot behind Best Buy was dark and swirling. That was his cue.

Ramos gathered up the four employees and customers inside and led them to the bathroom, where they packed in to wait out the storm.

Then the tornado struck.

“It was a lot of noise,” Ramos said. “It was the sound of brick moving. The doors started rattling.”

When Ramos walked outside after the storm died down, he saw the destruction: The structure lay flattened in shambles, except for the small section of the building where the bathrooms were located.

“We were trapped inside when the building collapsed, but everyone came out unscathed,” he said. “We were all fine. Everyone that was in the building was fine.”

Friends and co-workers hugged Ramos as they stood out in the parking lot talking to law enforcement officers.

“That was … fun,” Ramos said with obvious sarcasm. “I’m just thankful that our plan protected everybody in the building.”

GARDEN SQUARE RAVISHED

Mickie Richey was home with her daughter and five of her friends when she heard the tornado coming.

Richey quickly moved the kids into the bathroom of their two-story unit at Garden Square Apartments as the rain and wind whipped up outside. She stayed in the hallway.

The bathroom door was rattling, but the rain had let up, so Richey decided to open the door and check on the children. When she pulled it open, the air pressure from the storm outside pulled out the window. It flew across the room and smashed into her, leaving three large gashes on her face.

“My face saved the glass,” she said wryly. “It shocked me.”

When she went outside, Richey saw huge tree limbs littered across the entire apartment complex.

James Gunlite, deputy director of the Kokomo Housing Authority, which oversees Garden Square, said nearly half of the buildings there sustained substantial exterior damage, including broken windows and torn-off roofs

“There is a lot of damage,” he said. “The good thing is there’s concrete under the roof, so there’s no damage inside the apartments.”

Despite the destruction, Gunlite said none of the more than 300 residents there suffered any serious injuries.

Shortly after the tornado passed, Kokomo Urban Outreach and UAW Local 685 opened their doors so people could take refuge. Volunteers started grilling hot dogs and hamburgers just across the street outside Trinity United Methodist Church.

Gunlite said it all went to show how residents come together in times of tragedy. That’s just what they did nearly three years ago when another tornado hit the area.

“It was kind of the same path it took in 2013,” he said. “Mother Nature … I just don’t know.”

“It’s overwhelming, but the people that live here and the residents of Kokomo will come together like we did three years ago and make this just as well as it was before,” Gunlite said. “People come and help. That’s what we do here.”

RELIVING THE TERROR

Sarah Hutchinson, 17, knows what a tornado feels like.

She lived through the one that hit Kokomo in November 2013. That twister blew in a back wall at her house on the 400 block of East Ricketts Street and shifted parts of the house 6 inches off the foundation.

So when she saw the tornado alert on TV, she was ready.

“We kind of knew what to do, since it went through about three years ago,” Hutchinson said. “We knew what it would sound like and feel like.”

Then the power went out. Hutchinson pulled up Twitter, and followed the path of the storm on her phone. Each post alerted her that the tornado was getting closer and closer.

Hutchinson decided to get into the bathtub to be safe.

“It got pretty quiet, but then my ears started to pop,” she said. “We knew that it was coming through. That’s just the way it felt last time."

When Hutchinson emerged from the house, she saw a large branch had smashed into the roof and the fence was destroyed. It was bad, but not as bad as last time, she said.

“We were prepared in some aspects, but you can never really be prepared for a tornado,” Hutchinson said. “You don’t know how much of it is going to hit you, or how hard.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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