KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) – In a central Indiana city where trees were sheared off at their stumps by one of several tornadoes in the region, residents began the hard work Thursday of cleaning up destroyed or damaged homes and businesses.
The EF3 tornado packing winds of up to 165 mph that swept through the south side of Kokomo, Indiana, on Wednesday afternoon toppled a Starbucks coffee shop and tore apart numerous homes. One of them belonged to 45-year-old Mark Martinez, who was out picking up his daughter from school and returned to find everything but the bedrooms on one side of his house destroyed.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence hugged and chatted with residents in a neighborhood where the damage seemed to skip some homes altogether. Pence credited quick thinking and early warnings of the approaching storm for the lack of serious injuries; Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said only 10 to 15 residents in the city 40 miles north of Indianapolis had minor injuries.
“It’s a miracle and it’s a testament to good common sense,” Pence said.
The Kokomo tornado was one of several that swept through central and northern Indiana and northwest Ohio on Wednesday.
In Ohio, damage was reported in four counties, including Van Wert County, where officials said at least two tornadoes touched down about 2 miles apart, tearing roofs off homes and flattening barns. A tornado warning also briefly stopped KISS from shouting out loud during a show at Toledo, Ohio, though there was no touchdown.
Weather service crews were still assessing the scope of the storms in Indiana. While the state’s Department of Homeland Security initially said 12 tornadoes were confirmed, it lowered that count to eight late Thursday morning.
The National Weather Service confirmed the EF3 in Kokomo, an EF2 in Montgomery County and two EF1s in Howard County, meteorologist Joseph Nield said, adding that it’s likely several other tornadoes touched down. The service’s findings aren’t expected until Thursday afternoon at the earliest.
About 220 people stayed overnight in a temporary shelter in Kokomo, Mayor Greg Goodnight said Thursday. Police were restricting access to storm-damaged neighborhoods, saying residents must show identification to gain access.
“The areas that have been hit the hardest, we’re asking people to stay away unless they absolutely have to be in those areas,” Goodnight said at a news conference, adding that he’s relieved no one was killed or seriously injured.
Heidi Otiker lives on a block that was hit Wednesday, as well as by a tornado in November 2013.
“It could have been far worse. God has a master plan. I believe this all happens for a reason. It sucks at the moment, our houses and our material things can be replaced,” she said. “But this time, no fatalities, no injuries and we are all still here.”
Utility companies reported about 25,000 homes and businesses in the Kokomo area lost electricity from the storm, though power was restored to more than half by midday Thursday.
At the Park Place Apartments in Kokomo, maintenance technician Mitchell Carlson described the post-storm scene as “a madhouse.” He said the complex has 16 buildings and “probably eight of them don’t have a roof.” Falling tree limbs and air conditioners damaged 20 to 30 cars, he said.
___Associated Press writers Ken Kusmer, Rick Callahan and Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.