Northwest Indiana town hit hard by storm

August 5, 2008 8:59:52 PM PDT
The severe weather that moved through the Chicago area Monday night cut a wide swath of damage through northwest Indiana. Strong winds took off roofs and brought down trees and power lines. The hardest hit area was the town of Griffith, Indiana. There are 17,000 Griffith residents and as of 11:30 Tuesday morning, about two-thirds of them were without power. Officials there have declared the town a disaster area.

Bob Hudnall was asleep on his sofa Monday night when a tornado warning on TV startled him awake. His garage is gone. His roof was blown across his back yard.

He said he and his son ran to the basement, while his 77-year-old mother-in-law rode it out in a stairwell.

"These windows blew out, glass flew across the room, an dit tore the roof off in her room. So, it knocked her down on her butt," Hudnall said.

Despite all he's lost, Hudnall said he's counting his blessings.

"I thank God everybody's alive, honestly," he said. "This can be rebuilt."

Some say it could be months, or even a year, before the devastated section of Griffith fully recovers. Tammy Revis' Dodge Durango was smashed beyond repair, like many cars in the area. She said the spirit of the town is keeping her going.

"I love Griffith," Revis said. "It's not even just friends and family, it's just people outside who don't even live in this part of town. I had teenaged girls coming by with their gloves going, 'What do you need help with?' Teenaged girls?"

Dozens of homes were ripped apart during Monday night's storm. On Tuesday morning, several families were looking for a new place to live.

Evelyn Mochon has lived in Griffith for the past 22 years. There's not much left of her home. The roof is gone, the second floor rooms are destroyed and her personal belongings are scattered outside. Ironically, a shelf full of books, including a row of bibles, was untouched, even though the walls of the room were blown away.

The house is pretty much gone, but Mochon said she's not as upset as one might think.

"We're OK, and my dog is OK, and my cat is OK, so, this is just things, we can replace all that," said Mochon.

On Monday night around 8:30, ferocious winds ripped through the quiet neighborhood along 37th Avenue in Griffith. Most of the damage was on the northeast side of town. Huge trees were uprooted, parked cars were smashed by falling branches and live power lines were down.

Next door to the Mochons, Don and Nancy Hill's home was shifted off its foundation. They were called home from vacation.

"Everything is gone; everything is wet. There's insulation and conduit and drywall and roofing everywhere," said Nancy Hill. "Most of the roof is in the back yard, the pool is gone, deck's gone."

Neighbors say the storm came quickly, and they didn't have any time to prepare.

"I just started screaming, 'Go downstairs!' By the time we got to the door, glass blowing everywhere, walls caving in. It was crazy," said Erin Cumbstonball, Griffith resident.

"All of the sudden, I heard rain. I ran out to the porch, saw a tree fly this way. You could just hear glass popping all over the place," said Mary Morricz, Griffith resident.

A few blocks away, the winds also caused serious damage to a small strip mall. About a dozen businesses were badly beat up. Most were roofless. Pieces of the roof were ripped off and shattered glass was everywhere.

F.I.M., a backyard recreation store, lost its roof, and much of its merchandise was damaged.

"It's a lot of damage for ten minutes worth, five minutes worth of wind," said business owner Neal Weiss.

"You see this all the time.. But you never see it up close like this, it's devastating, these folks have lost a lot," said Richard Blakely, Griffith resident.

Every neighbor ABC7 spoke with Tuesday morning said it's a miracle no one was seriously hurt during Monday night's storm. But there were some close calls.

"All of the sudden, I had a ceiling on my head, but I didn't get hurt very bad, just twisted my ankle," said Mochon.

The National Weather Service has ruled that an F2 tornado raced through the town. It was one of three twisters confirmed in the Chicago area. Two others touched down in Bolingbrook, Ill., and Bloomingdale, Ill.

While many in Griffith are looking at thousands of dollars' worth of damage, a few are looking at thousands of dollars' worth of business. One tree removal company owner had been out for nearly 12 hours working.

"I've been out since five o'clock this morning. We've gotten 350 calls. So, we'll be busy for about the next three months," said Gary Erwin, Erwin Tree Care,

In Michigan City, Indiana, a 23-year-old man was killed when his car was crushed by a falling tree. Flowers were left on the tree that killed Timothy Decker Monday. It happened before 10 p.m. near the Colonial mobile home park. Decker leaves behind a wife and 2-year-old child.

High winds blew the tree onto Decker's car. The coroner said he died instantly, just yards from making it to his home.

In Hobart, a section of a townhouse collapsed, seriously injuring one person. Residents say the collapse happened during several heavy lightning flashes. Winds carried the debris about a quarter-mile away.


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