It was around 2 p.m. Nov. 17, 2013 and Karen and Jay Glendenning were dozing off in front of the TV. It was a Sunday afternoon and the husband and wife were recovering from a “lovely” Mexican vacation. They had arrived back at 12:30 a.m., exhausted. Karen awoke starving and left their Meadowbrook Drive home in search of sustenance. When she returned successful, the couple dug in.
“No sooner had we finished eating when all the sudden the sirens went off,” said Karen. “Sometimes you get complacent to that sort of thing, and I wasn’t all that concerned.”
Jay, however, was.
“My husband, being the man that he is, is standing at the back door, just watching,” she said.
Just then, a “huge wind gust” accompanied by sideways rain hit.
“Get down!” Jay screamed to Karen, who dropped right to the floor.
Immediately realizing she was in front of the picture window, Jay directed her away.
“He had me crawl to the back hallway,” said Karen. “I had bruises on my knees for two weeks from doing that.”
She heard glass breaking. She began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
“And then it was over with,” she said. “That quickly.”
The Glendennings, along with the rest of Kokomo, had just escaped serious injury or death in the third most numerous tornado outbreak ever recorded in Indiana. Damaging storms had also ravaged Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. The National Weather Service later determined two category F2 tornadoes had cut through the south end of Kokomo that day, causing “considerable damage” and hitting estimated top speeds of 120 miles per hour.
“We went outside to kind of assess the damage, and I saw the devastation,” she said.
“We went outside to kind of assess the damage, and I saw the devastation."
An initial assessment completed two days later by the city determined 300 homes and commercial properties in total were damaged. Dozens of homes and up to 30 businesses had been destroyed. The city imposed a curfew for the tornado-damaged areas from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. through the following Friday night.
The Glendennings, along with tens of thousands of other Hoosiers, were without electricity. Fortunately, they had a place to go. With the help of Jay’s brother, who parked a block away, they were able to scale fences with suitcases in hand. They stayed with family for the next five days.
Meanwhile, the cleanup effort had already begun.
DAMAGE: Tornado damage on the east and south sides of Kokomo as seen Nov. 17, 2013. Winston Howard and son, William Howard, check through debris in front of their house on Meadowbrook Drive in the Cedar Crest neighborhood after the tornado came through. (Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune)
“I was making calls Sunday evening saying, ‘Hey we’re going to get together Monday,’” said Abbie Smith, president of the United Way of Howard County and the chairman of the Long Term Recovery Team.
The following weekend's Volunteer Saturday saw unprecedented levels of community support. Around 1,275 volunteers descended upon the scene to assist in the cleanup.
Desier Brannon was asked by Smith to help organize the logistics.
“It felt like it was so chaotic behind the scenes,” said Brannon. “But we pulled it off without a hitch. On that Saturday we almost nearly cleared everything. Every job was complete that was on the agenda that day.”
But, in many ways, the brokenness was far from being made whole. Clearing the major tree damage was a challenge. Trees blocked roadways, driveways and yards. When Howard County as a whole applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency the following month, it listed infrastructure costs of $412,500 for debris removal and $309,840 for protective measures, according to a document provided by Jennifer Jordan, Kokomo’s director of development.
“Even after all that was cleared a lot of the cases were, ‘I can’t get through my driveway because there is a tree sitting there and insurance doesn’t cover that,’” said Smith.
Between their homes, cars and garage, the Glendennings estimated their damage at around $40,000.
“We were one of the very fortunate ones,” said Karen. “Other than having no power, our home was livable.”
“We were one of the very fortunate ones. Other than having no power, our home was livable.”
Others were not as lucky. In all, $2.8 million in damages to Howard County homes was recorded. The LTRT began collecting donations and soon amassed $119,688 in donations from businesses and individuals. Smith said the United Way of Howard County served as the fiscal sponsor and assisted in distributing the funds to 109 families. She said any payments of $1,000 or less could be spent with one signature from the case management committee, but anything over had to go through the financial controls committee.
“We were easily able to take in gifts that people wanted to give and keep it separate for tornado recovery and get it back out that way,” said Smith.
The team was assisted by World Renew Volunteers, based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Known as the “Green Shirts,” the group consists of volunteers from all over the country who go to storm-damaged areas and identify what’s left to be done after initial cleanup.
Despite this commercial and personal generosity, no federal help would be forthcoming for the state. As it did previously with the April 2013 100-year flood in Kokomo and later with the winter blizzard, FEMA denied Howard County’s Dec. 4 request for assistance Dec. 11. On Dec. 23, the state appealed. On Jan. 8, it was once again rejected. (FEMA officials did note, however, individuals harmed by a disaster could apply for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration. A property owner or business owner would have had to have been creditworthy to apply.)
“I really think that we were prepared as a committee for that denial,” said Smith. “Getting that denial really was just our license to work and do what we needed to do.”
And for people like the Glendennings, what needed to be done meant replacing the gutters. Even though the couple was insured, it wasn’t enough.
“We had a difficult year this year,” said Karen. “My husband had his second hip replacement the first week of January. He was slated to be off work for three months. So we kind of planned for that. Well, he had some difficulties, so he ended up being off for six months, and we ended up kind of having to dip into some of our insurance money to live on. So, when it came time to get to our gutters, which is pretty much the last of our repairs, we were short.”
And that’s where the LTRT stepped in. They paid for the new gutters, which were installed earlier this month.
“I had to laugh this morning when I got up because I looked outside and I was kind of hoping for another sunny day,” she said recently. “I was disappointed when I saw the rain. And then all of the sudden I laughed because I thought God is showing me how well my new gutters work.”
In addition to the LTRT, Glendenning said she was particularly grateful to police officers, firemen, the American Red Cross and the Kokomo Rescue Mission, among many others.
Smith said she’s not surprised at how the community came to its own rescue.
“You’ll ask people what they can give, and they’ll step up every time,” she said. “It’s believing everyone has something to give.”