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Washington Tornado Survivor: ‘I Thought I Was A Goner’

Washington resident Roger Watson reflects on his experience and how he plans to rebuild after two EF2 tornadoes damaged his entire street.

Roger

Photo: Joe Hren

Washington, Ind. resident Roger Watson walks around his neighborhood after an EF2 tornado damaged many homes.

The town that suffered most in this weekend’s tornado outbreak was Washington, Ill. where eight people are confirmed dead. But Washington, Ind., in the southwestern part of the state felt a blow from the storm cell as well. While no one was killed there, more than 100 homes were destroyed, and countless people say they’re just lucky to be alive.

Roger Watson was watching NASCAR in the home where he grew up when he met the tornado face to face.

“I opened my back door up and tried to get out my back door and it was coming down the alley way here and it just grabbed me and threw me into the house so I just curled up in the fetal position and just layed there until it was over. Then all the glass started breaking and stuff was flying around inside the house – I thought I was a goner.”

Five minutes later it was over.

“I just walked outside and it looked like a war zone.”

The war zone in Washington includes roofs ripped off houses, fallen power lines and debris littering the streets.

As Watson tours the town the day after the tornado hit, he pointed out how the storm destroyed certain homes and left others intact.

The storm took out the windows on Watson’s house and moved it off its foundation. A large shade tree in his yard  was nearly split in two.

“My mom planted that tree about two weeks after I was born so that tree is like 56 years old and I thought that tree would be there forever and now half of it is gone,” Watson says.

Two tornadoes passed through Washington – both EF-2s. One was on the ground only a short distance, but according to the National Weather Service the other one traveled almost 20 miles.

That’s rare for a tornado in Indiana – especially in November. But meteorologists say Sunday’s warm temperatures combined with the high dew point made the twister travel further.

The day after the tornadoes the residents of Washington were trying to move beyond the shock of the situation and begin picking up the pieces.

The focus shifted to recovery. Power crews were putting lines back up and residents whose homes were spared were helping out their neighbors.

Representative Larry Bucshon was touring the area with the mayor and the governor so he could take residents’ stories back to Washington D.C.

“I’m here because I want to make sure that if the federal government needs to be involved in helping with these recovery efforts then my office will be engaged in that process so we can get people back to work and back into their lives and help them get through what is a very troubling time for them and their families,” Bucshon says.

The rebuilding process in many ways is just beginning in Washington. The streets will be cleared. Power will be restored, but the piles of rubble consist of pieces of people’s lives, including Watson’s, and some of the things will never be replaced.

“It’s going to take a while to get over this, it’s really devastating,” he says.

Claire McInerny

Claire McInerny is an education reporter for StateImpact Indiana. She comes to WFIU/WTIU from KCUR in Kansas City. She graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Kansas where she discovered her passion for public media and the stories it tells. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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