November 7, 2005

Tornado survivors return home

By John Gress

EVANSVILLE, Indiana (Reuters) - Shocked survivors of a
tornado that killed 23 people in Indiana returned to shattered
homes on Monday thankful to be alive but stunned by the

"The reality sets in. I came back today and just lost it,"
said Sherri Hudson standing near the one wall that was left of
her house in the town of Newburgh.

She and her husband, Jerry, survived, she said, only
because of a frantic telephone call from their son, Casey,
telling them to ask no questions but to go to the basement
immediately as the middle-of-the-night storm struck on Sunday.

"We no sooner got down there than it was like a bomb
exploded. All the debris came falling down the stair," she said
in an interview. "The only thing left are the cabinets in my
kitchen. The dishes are still in them untouched."

But she said she and her husband consider themselves
fortunate compared to those who live about a mile away in the
Eastbrook mobile home park in Evansville where 18 people died.

Vanderburgh County Deputy Sheriff Eric Williams said the
body of a resident of the park was found in a nearby pond on
Monday, apparently blown there by the force of the storm "but
we're hopeful there are no more" victims in and around that

The dead there ranged from children aged 2, 5 and 6 to a
78-year-old man. Five deaths were confirmed in neighboring
Warrick County, including a couple, their 4-year-old son and
the woman's near-term fetus.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth said the tornado
could not have touched down in a worse place -- a cluster of
mobile homes surrounded by farmland where "there is not a place
to escape to" -- with 11 minutes warning in the middle of the

More than 200 people were injured in the southwest Indiana
region, some of them critically, after the storm hit at 2 a.m.


At Eastbrook, whose mobile homes had no sheltering
basements, survivors told of being awakened by roaring winds,
many not hearing warning sirens that sounded not long before,
and trying to seek hiding places as their homes exploded around
them. One woman told ABC-TV on Monday her mobile home was sent
twisting through the air like the fictional Dorothy's farmhouse
in "The Wizard of Oz," landing three or four streets away.

U.S. President George W. Bush, visiting Panama, said he had
called Indiana Gov. Mitchell Daniels and asked him if more
federal action was needed.

"Many Americans are now asking God's blessings on those who
suffered through this natural disaster," Bush told reporters.

Daniels later filed a formal request with the White House
for disaster aid, including emergency housing, unemployment
assistance and crisis counseling.

A local emergency board member, quoted by the Evansville
Courier & Press, said officials five years ago looked into a
system that would automatically ring telephones in
neighborhoods known to be in the path of a tornado but rejected
it because it cost several million dollars.

But mobile homes -- manufactured units without basements
that are typically arrayed in clusters -- are especially
vulnerable to tornadoes and even an added layer of warning may
not have saved lives.

It was the deadliest U.S. tornado of 2005. Through
September there had been only 10 tornado deaths -- eight of
them mobile homes residents. In any given year, there are about
70 U.S. tornado fatalities.

The Evansville newspaper quoted local insurance adjusters
as saying property damage, based on a cursory look, could run
as high as $100 million.

The storm touched down in northern Kentucky then skipped
across the Ohio River into southern Indiana.