Two tornadoes touched down in Whitley County Tuesday morning leaving millions of dollars in damage, but no loss of human life, in their wake.
Officials with the National Weather Service said a tornado that landed near county road 400 S was an EF1 twister, capable of winds between 86 and 110 mph. A second tornado was an EF0 in southwestern Whitley County. Winds in an EF0 tornado measure 65 to 85 mph.
Both tornadoes were on the ground for approximately two miles.
While the tornadoes by-passed the county’s communities, damage in the rural areas was extensive.
At Schipper Farms, on Henry Rd. in southwestern Whitley County, two grain legs toppled to the ground, a roof was torn off a barn and many of the farm’s grain bins were damaged.
About a mile west of Schippers, the roof was torn off a century-old church and farther west, a barn was flattened.
Near the center part of the county, a hog barn on Keiser Road was destroyed with one animal killed by the storm, and another house badly damaged when a tree fell on it.
There were numerous reports of damaged or destroyed buildings and many trees damaged throughout the county.
The grain legs on the Schipper farm were approximately 118 and 85 feet tall, respectively. Just last weekend, the family had replaced lightbulbs in a star atop the tallest leg that they light every holiday season. Cinda Schipper said getting the star ready for this holiday season had extra meaning as a soldier home on leave from Iraq had made a special effort to track them down and tell them how much seeing the star meant to him.
Chad Schipper was home when the storm struck. The pressure from the tornado sucked a window out of the front of his house. He said he could see dirt, debris and rain whipping around his house, and felt his house shaking.
“I’ve been in a lot of windstorms, and this wasn’t just wind,” he said.
His father, Rex, was in a workshop in the barn and saw the sides of the shop expand outward like a balloon.
“I thought, ‘Oh (crap) here we go,’” he said.
The Schippers had just finished harvest and all the bins are full of grain. Rex Schipper said at least four of the bins were damaged, although he thinks he may be able to patch one. Until he can get the legs removed though, he is unsure how much damage has been done to the other bins, and said he will likely have to find a way to remove the grain from at least one of the bins.
“At least nobody got hurt,” Rex Schipper said.
That was the sentiment echoed by Rev. Roy Blake of the Centerview Community Church, just a mile down the road from the Schippers.
“Thank God it wasn’t on a Sunday,” Blake said.
Ben Beerwert, a longtime member of the church, said he was dumbfounded by what had happened to the rural church that he has belonged to most of his life.
The damage to the church looks much worse from the outside. The entire east side and about half of a section on the west side of the roof covering the original structure lay in a field next to it. However a false ceiling kept much of the water out of the sanctuary except where a window blew in.
Ruth Ann Grant, another lifetime member of the church is torn whether to repair the damage or to permanently move services to a newer undamaged wing of the church.
“I’d like to see the church back to what it was, but I woke up this morning with the song ‘Where He Leads Me I Will Follow’ in my head so that’s what we’ll do.”
Regardless of the future of the church, both Beerwert and Grant believe they will be able to hold services Sunday in the new wing.
For residents near 400 S who were in the tornado’s path the damage to homes, buildings and personal property also was extensive.
A barn at Doug and Cheryl Schrader’s farm was flattened and the house, which was recently remodeled, was damaged by flying debris.
The tornado also flattened a hog barn, killing one pig. After the storm passed, farmers worked to remove other livestock from the collapsed building.
Jordan Chapple was leaving school at about 11 a.m. when he got a text message from a neighbor about damage to his family’s Keiser Road farm.
“I got a text from my neighbor that the barn was gone,” Chapple said. “I thought she was kidding, but I got home and all that was left was a pile of rubble and a cement slab. I am just thankful it was the barn and not the house, and that everyone is OK.”
The second tornado touched down about a half-mile north of the intersection of state Route 9 and 400 S and disipated a half-mile east of the intersection of Mowrey and Raber roads.
Stacy Bender and her daughter were caught in the storm as it moved east of Columbia City.
Bender was returning to Columbia City after picking up her daughter at Coesse Elementary School. She pulled off the road on U.S. 30 near Paige’s Crossing.
“When the rain started to slow down, I started seeing this wind. I could actually see the wind. It was blowing debris and I was wondering if I should get in the ditch.
“When the wind started I wondered ‘Is this a crosswind, is it a tornado?’ There were a few cars that pulled off just like me and at one point, I couldn’t even see them.”
Just one-quarter of a mile down the road from Centerveiw Community Church, Tamara and John Kuckuck lost their 100-year-old plus red barn which John believes had a lot of history. He heard a lot of cracking the barn then it came tumbling down. There were no animals in the barn at the time it came down.
“We may build a new structure here, but this one went down quickly ... it’s a shame because it probably had a lot of history,” John said. “We were just thinking about painting it since we just finished painting the outside of our home ... good thing we didn’t.”
Whitley County’s twisters were two of five that similar-sized tornadoes that The National Weather Service said touched down in northeast Indiana Wednesday.
The tornadoes were part of a strong low-pressure weather system that moved across the area. According to National Weather Service, the barometric pressure readings in the low-pressure are among some of the lowest recorded, which accounted for the strong winds.
Another high wind warning is in effect for today, but no storms are forecast.
Staff writer Phil Smith and freelancers Nicole Ott and Linda Hoskins contributed to this story.