A series of tornadoes swept through parts of Indiana on Wednesday, collapsing a coffee shop and damaging a Kokomo neighborhood that was severely damaged by a twister just two years ago.
“Absolute devastation,” Joe Gardner, surveying the scene in his Cedar Crest neighborhood in Kokomo, told NBC station WTHR of Indianapolis. “It’s like stuff you see on TV after bombs have gone off.”
No serious injuries or deaths were immediately reported. The façade of a Starbucks in Kokomo collapsed, but everyone inside was able to make it out safely, a manager and the company said.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence returned to Indiana on Wednesday from North Carolina — where he was campaigning as the Republican vice presidential nominee — and will tour the damaged areas Thursday.
Pence said that the first warnings of severe weather in Indiana were sounded at about 2:40 p.m. ET and that eight tornadoes were confirmed — at least three of which touched down.
The worst damage was in Howard County, where approximately 15 homes, as well as businesses, were damaged, and in Montgomery County to the southwest, where around 30 homes were damaged, Pence said.
“It is truly remarkable that there are such a few number of injures or worse in the wake of this storm, given the fact that it literally struck Howard County virtually at shift change in the afternoon, in a great manufacturing town and about the time kids were getting out of school,” he said.
“Just about the worst possible time,” the governor said.
The tornado in Kokomo struck at about 3:22 p.m., state police said. Several other tornadoes or funnel clouds were later reported as personnel gathered to respond, officials said.
The National Weather Service issued a preliminary rating of EF-3 for the Kokomo tornado. The rating means a tornado with winds between 136 and 165 mph.
Howard County and Kokomo initially declared a state of emergency and ordered everyone to stay off the roads to make room for emergency responders and government and other public workers. The order was later revised, and residents were encouraged to only travel if necessary and to obey road closures.
Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said that many trees were knocked down and that power was out in large parts of the city. Nearly 24,000 people were without power in Howard County on Wednesday evening, electricity company Duke Energy said.
A tornado was also reported to have thrown grain wagons 500 feet into the air in Wells County, a barn and homes were destroyed in Allen County, and tornadoes were reported to have destroyed barns and mobile homes in western Ohio, according to reports made to the National Weather Service.
Kokomo was struck by a tornado in November 2013 as a series of storms swept across six states that killed eight people in all.
The neighborhood that was hit hardest by Wednesday’s tornado is just north of the path of the 2013 twister, which damaged and destroyed homes, Goodnight said.
“So there were some of the people who had their homes damaged 2½ ago — many of their neighbors are now experiencing the same thing,” Goodnight said.
Carla Gardner was thankful Wednesday that her children were not home and were instead locked down in school as the severe weather struck the town.
“I was getting texts from my daughter — she’s in eighth grade — telling me that she was scared and the weather was getting bad,” Gardner told WTHR. “But I didn’t think it would happen again, just two years after the last one.”