Tornado Survivor: ‘It’s Like The House Just Exploded’

Washington residents describe the severe storms that shook their town Sunday - leaving people without power and some without a place to live.

A tornado that ripped through Washington, Ind., twisted this home off of its foundation. A neighbor says its occupants moved out two weeks ago.

Photo: Kyle Stokes / WFIU News

A tornado that ripped through Washington, Ind., twisted this home off of its foundation. A neighbor says its occupants moved out two weeks ago.

State teams are still assessing the damage in Kokomo, Lafayette and Washington, Indiana, after severe storms roared through the state Sunday.  Governor Mike Pence says damage assessments in those cities and 15 other hard-hit counties will be key in determining whether to declare a disaster area in any part of the state.  That declaration would qualify those areas for federal aid.

‘It’s Like The House Just Exploded’

Roger Watson spent most of his life in the house at 501 Sycamore Street.  He grew up there.  He’s lived there since he moved back to town in ‘98.  It only took seconds for a tornado to do this:

“It’s like the house just exploded from the pressure and everything,” Watson said. “It just busted out all the windows. Then it took the whole front end of the house off here.”

It’s hard to believe Watson when he says the inside is in worse shape than the exterior.  The storm sheared off part of the roof, peeled off the siding. A part of his neighbor’s roof drapes through his tree like a bedsheet.  Watson’s home was one of an estimated 20 houses destroyed as a tornado raced down the alley behind his house, taking several of his neighbors garages with it.

“You can see, there’s a car sitting there underneath that pile of rubble,” Watson says looking in the direction of where three of his neighbor’s garages stood. 

The wreckage gets even more surreal.

Watson shines a flashlight towards another wrecked house — he says the occupants moved out two weeks ago.  The house is completely off its foundation after the storm lifted it up and spun it around.

Darkness Makes The Situation Worse 

The streets of Washington are strewn with twigs. The only light is coming from the moon, which is out and it’s bright; and from the law enforcement vehicles that have their lights flashing. It feels like the entire town is without power.

A curfew was in place until Monday morning to try and prevent gawkers from going around and surveying the damage. There are power lines down everywhere, so there’s certainly a safety hazard as well.

A generator at the Red Cross’s tent in a church parking lot provides what might be the only source of power for blocks.  Daviess County Red Cross Disaster Chairman J.D. Bechtel says they’re set up as close as possible to the hardest-hit part of town:

“We’ve got a lot of residents that are planning on staying up there tonight, and that’s the reason why I want to be there for them in case, for them, through the night, they decide it’s not a good idea,” Bechtel says. “Because there’s not going to be power up here for a long time, I do know that.”

Washington, Indiana’s police chief says crews are working on restoring power to the city.  Even in areas where power lines haven’t fallen, he says crews are worried metal twisted in the lines could cause more damage if power were turned back on.  Until the power returns, Katie Cown is hunkering down:

“We’ve got candles going, and holding on to flashlights,” Cown says. I’m just glad it’s over.”

Cown was lucky — with houses just blocks away destroyed, hers only sustained minor damage.

“I mean, siding off, but that’s it. Like, over there, God help those people. I feel so sorry for ‘em.”

But even with his childhood home splintered, Roger Watson counts his blessings.

“Well, I got my life. The house, it can be replaced,” Watson says.

But it’s still strange, Watson says, to see his house reduce to wreckage sitting next to others just yards away with barely any damage at all.

Kyle Stokes

Kyle Stokes joined WFIU/WTIU in 2011 as an education reporter and blogger for StateImpact Indiana, a collaborative reporting venture between WFIU and NPR News. He comes to Bloomington from Columbia, Mo., where he was a producer and reporter for NPR member station KBIA-FM and NBC affiliate KOMU-TV. Originally from Minneapolis, Minn., Stokes is a proud graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and an even prouder Minnesota Twins fan.

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