The Washington Times-Herald

November 19, 2013

In harm's way

Tornado victims managed to avoid death, injury by seconds

By Mike Grant Washington Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — Sycamore Street in Washington looked like a war zone. A tornado swept across the west side of town leaving a path of destruction and frightened people in its wake.The storm blew through the city turning a quiet Sunday afternoon into a time of terror.

“It hit hard,” said Roger Watson standing outside of his badly damaged home at 501 Sycamore St.. “I could see it (the tornado) bouncing down the alley behind the house. I tried to go out the back to my Mom’s, but it just threw me back inside the house and knocked me down. I curled up in a ball and I could hear the windows blowing out.”

Watson’s home lost its roof, and so did several other homes through the Sycamore Street area. One vacant home was picked up off of its foundation and thrown several feet. The back side of Cracker Powersports was completely smashed with cement blocks thrown everywhere.

Neighbors said it hit quickly. “I heard the sirens and went inside to the bathroom,” said Rebecca Hollanberg, who lives at the corner of S.W. Fourth and Sycamore streets. “I was inside for about 30 seconds and then the whole house started shaking. It felt like forever, but it didn’t last long, and when I came out there was a tree on the house and the door was damaged.”

Washington Street Superintendent Ernie Evans was convinced the damage was the result of a tornado which was later confirmed as an EF2 by the National Weather Service in Indianapolis. He shot video of the event from his home on Vincennes Avenue as it crashed into the west side of town. “I saw it, and it threw up debris,” said Evans. “I lost track of it about the time it hit Hudson’s over around the shopping center.”

Officials say the storm hit Etienne’s Farm Market, damaged homes out around Cindy Kay Drive, hit the shopping center on the west side, WAMW, and Reid’s Deli, then down along Sycamore before stopping close to Meridian Street.

“That’s where we got hit the hardest,” said Mayor Joe Wellman. “Beyond Meridian we just had some spotty damage around town.”

While there was plenty of damage, authorities had no reports of injuries from the storm, but several residents said they had very close calls. “I was standing on my porch and could see stuff flying around in the air,” said Tim Garcia of 306 Sycamore St.

“I yelled for my wife to head to the basement and I ran to the basement steps. Just as I got there a board hit me in the head. I went on down into the basement. The sound was a roar, but almost as soon as I got in the basement it was over.”

The tornado took the roof off of the house and tossed it into the street. “When I came up out of the basement I could see the sky.”

Lou Stafford of 401 S.W. Fourth and several members of her family had just finished attending a special Thanksgiving service at church and was heading home when she heard the sirens. “They knew there were tornado’s being reported in the area so they all went to her house until it cleared up,” said Stafford’s daughter Diane Russell. “Just as Mom and I were pulling up my son-in-law began yelling for us to get inside the house.”

“I was inside for 5 seconds and then it hit,” said Stafford. “There were seven of us including a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old and none of them got a scratch.”

While Stafford and her family were not hurt the house had its roof ripped off and spread across the street. She suspects her home is total loss. “This is kind of difficult,” said Stafford. “It’s hard. I thought this was going to be my home until I went home with the Lord.”

That day will come later. “I still have my mom,” said Russell. “That’s more precious than anything.”

Down the street at 304 Sycamore, Bill and Phyllis Taylor are telling a similar tale. “We were standing on the porch and could see the debris, and then we saw the tornado come out in the trees,” said Bill Taylor. “We knew it was going to be a direct hit. We ran and got under the kitchen bar and just then the front window blew in and sent glass all through the house.”

“We were praying to God that he was going to keep us safe,” said Phyllis Taylor. “This is the scariest thing we’ve ever been through.”

The Taylors were moving furniture out of their home after the storm severely damaged its roof.

“We’ve gotten a lot of good help,” said Bill Taylor. “We’re going to store it with the kids until the insurance adjuster comes in.”

“We’ve lived here since 1991,” said Phyllis Taylor. “It’s difficult going through everything and dealing with the memories, good and bad. God never puts more on you than you can handle.”

Not everyone who lives along Sycamore Street was home when the tornado blew through, but their families were there. “I was working in Sullivan and I got a message that our home had been hit,” said Tom Norton of 403 Sycamore.

“My wife and little girl were there. My daughter got into the basement, my wife made it to the stairs and then a big trailer hit the side of the house.”

When Norton got home the damage hit him. “I was shocked,” he said. “I had to make sure everyone was okay. Then it was what am I going to do? Our kitchen is destroyed. We have a couple of vehicles that were badly damaged. The garage is gone. I’ve been getting calls from a lot of people willing to help out, but what do you do? We’re just picking up, salvaging what we can and waiting on the insurance people.”

Even with all of the damage, residents along Sycamore Street know it could have been worse. “I”m feeling extremely lucky,” said Garcia, pointing to the rubble on his porch. “I’m gad I moved when I did.”

“I’ve been through hurricanes and earthquakes,” said Watson. “This was the worst, way worse than anything I’ve been through.”