Aftermath of a storm


Just two minutes.

That’s the amount of time Todd Stark, his mother, his 17- and 24-year-old sons and two dogs spent in the bathroom of their modular home seeking shelter from an EF2 tornado with peak wind of 115 mph.

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Stark then opened the front door of his home at 5529 S. County Road 125E a couple of miles west of Tampico in an area known as South Wegan and saw the front porch was gone.

He thought that was the extent of the damage.

But then he opened the door leading into a 30-foot-by-26-foot garage attached to the home and could see the dark sky and rain falling.

Also, a 27-foot camper that had been sitting outside that garage was turned around on its side and lying up against the garage.

Stark then saw where a new 30-by-40 garage, which had been finished a month earlier and was connected to the other garage by a breezeway, had been lifted off of its foundation and turned about 30 degrees, landing on his oldest son’s truck. That truck, Stark’s truck and his mother’s car all had been pulled into the garage since they heard storms were on the way.

Stark said he thinks the intense winds picked the camper up and slammed it into the garages. That caused the attached garage to collapse back into his pool.

Fortunately, no one was injured. The family just has a lot of cleanup and rebuilding to do. Stark estimates the damage to be about $100,000.

“It is what it is,” he said. “We’re healthy. That’s the main thing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, a week after storms swept through southern Indiana, the National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado hit southern Jackson County.

Around 5:45 a.m. March 1, the tornado stayed on the ground for a quarter-mile, starting with 94 mph winds southwest of Stark’s home and reaching 115 mph when it took a direct hit on his home. An EF2 tornado has winds between 111 and 135 mph.

Other homes and structures in the area also suffered damage from the intense wind.

About 4¼ miles away, East County Road 600S remains closed as workers replace large steel Duke Energy transmission poles that were affected by the wind. Three poles had to be taken down, and five others were damaged.

From the evening hours of Feb. 28 to the pre-dawn hours of March 1, the National Weather Service said 11 tornadoes were confirmed, starting north of Evansville and traveling through southern Indiana.

The other tornado confirmed Wednesday was an EF1 that traveled 0.2 miles near Mitchell in Lawrence County. Trees were uprooted at the start of the path, and roofs were lofted 100 yards away, the weather service reported.

Stark said he considers himself fortunate because since June, he had been sleeping in the camper in his driveway every night. His mother had moved in with him, and an addition had been built on the back of the house at the time the new garage was constructed.

Hearing about storms with possible tornadoes and heavy hail on the way, Stark chose to stay in the house that night, and they put the three vehicles in the new garage. He also kept his weather radio close by while sleeping in a recliner.

At 5:30 a.m., a message came across the weather radio about a tornado warning in Washington County. The county line is a couple of miles south of his home.

He then turned on his television, and meteorologists were saying the main threat was south of Salem, which is more than 30 miles away.

A few minutes later, however, the electricity went off.

“I could hear the wind just getting louder and louder,” Stark said. “It’s just like they say, it sounds like a freight train.”

Stark then heard a small tree hit the corner of the house, and he told his mother and sons to get into the bathroom. They also got their two dogs in there with them.

“It took us 15 seconds or less to get into the bathroom,” Stark said. “Before we could shut the door, it was over.”

Stark said the only other noise he heard sounded like a boom. That was the camper slamming into the garages.

“The house briefly shook, and of course, it was so much wind at that time,” he said.

Choosing to stay in the house that night most likely saved Stark’s life.

“Everything that was in the back of that camper was in the front of the camper,” he said. “That tells me that (the tornado) had to pick the whole rear end of it up. I think it picked it up and slammed it into (the two garages) at the same time.”

The camper wound up being totaled, and Stark said his truck also is a total loss. He said his mother’s car and son’s truck should be able to be fixed. Just two weeks before, his son had purchased the truck.

At the moment, a corner of the detached garage is resting on top of that truck. The tornado had pulled out the garage’s anchor bolts, which were mortared into the foundation’s concrete blocks.

“Usually, when a building is pushed one direction, the back wall goes with it the same direction,” Stark said. “That back wall is siding up, so the bottom of that back wall had to blow out before this came down.”

The roof system of the garage is intact, but one end of it is sitting on slick vinyl siding.

The day after the storm, Stark and his cousin carefully moved one of the corner posts to the bed of his son’s truck to keep the roof off of it.

“This thing has been moving,” Stark said of the roof system. “It has moved about, I’m guessing, four inches.”

For about 3½ weeks, Stark had been cleaning up the old garage and moving items into the new one. The Sunday before the storm, he had added shelves he built. At 3 p.m. the day before the storm, he had finished moving everything in.

Stark, who has worked in construction for 23 years, had worked alongside an Amish crew in building the garage and the addition on the house.

The stick-frame addition was built perpendicular onto the back of the house, and Stark said that may have helped save his house from collapsing, too.

“If that addition was not there, my house wouldn’t be standing,” he said. “I know that for a fact, and I’ve had other people say that. The way that’s built, it’s bracing my house. It kept (the tornado) from pushing it in.”

The front porch wound up in the backyard, and the roof of the attached garage spilled into the pool, which also is a total loss.

A small boat was tossed into a field behind the home, and pieces of insulation were plastered all over the back of the addition and found in trees behind the house.

Stark said when Duane Davis, director of Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, saw the camper and the insulation on the outside of the addition, he thought it had to have been a tornado, not straight-line winds.

After the storm, Stark didn’t have heat, water or electricity. Plus, since lightning struck a Duke Energy substation and wind knocked over a transmission pole in Seymour, he wasn’t able to immediately report his damage because he had no cellphone service.

His electricity was restored March 2 after flagging down a Jackson County REMC truck that was going past his house.

Stark’s insurance agent is his neighbor, so he had him come over and assess the damage. He estimated it at $60,000, but Stark said he feels it will be closer to $100,000 when personal property is included.

He spent three hours Wednesday sorting through some of that property and placing salvageable items in a storage trailer. The list filled four pieces of paper, but he’s still sorting through the mess.

Stark has received a couple of estimates on the cost to remove all of the debris, which he said could take a couple of days.

He already is working on repairing the front of the house, which was damaged when the front porch was ripped off. Shingles are missing from the roof, and there is water damage inside the home, affecting drywall, the ceiling and carpet.

Stark said his Amish crew is supposed to be back the second week of April, so he hopes to begin rebuilding the garages at that time.

“This will be done by the end of May with any luck,” he said.

While this was the first time a tornado took a direct hit on his home, Stark said he has seen at least six tornadoes or funnel clouds come through the area in his 20 years of living there.

The other times, though, he and his neighbors suffered minor damage.

“Me and my mother used to sit out in our old garage and watch storms when I was a kid,” he said. “That was a big thing. I’m not afraid of them.”

He said he thinks the area is prone to tornadoes because of the nearby hills and Muscatatuck River.

“I know storms follow waterways,” he said. “That’s a proven fact.”

Nick Klinger, deputy director of Jackson County EMA, said there were numerous reports of storm damage around the county March 1. He said Davis took National Weather Service officials around the county to assess the damage and determine if it was caused by straight-line winds or a tornado.

Klinger said they look at how the buildings or structures were damaged and the debris in the area.

Part of the reason they determined Stark’s home was hit by a tornado is because of the garage being lifted and turned.

“You wouldn’t suspect that was a straight-line wind,” Klinger said. “Straight-line wind would have just pushed it off.”

Klinger said the worst damage was in the southern half of the county, and most of it was caused by wind.

Along with the Duke Energy transmission poles being knocked down, Klinger said wind turned over and mangled part of a field irrigation system.

He expects East County Road 600S to be closed for a while as workers replace the large steel poles.