An example of the destruction a tornado caused in Sullivan County Friday night. (Photo from Indiana Department of Homeland Security)
Gov. Eric Holcomb declared disaster emergencies for Sullivan and Johnson counties Saturday morning after at least one tornado and severe storms ripped through the state Friday night, leaving three dead.
The governor traveled to Sullivan — about 95 miles southwest of Indianapolis near the Illinois state line — and spent time viewing the widespread destruction of the tiny town of about 4,200.
“I have full confidence that even after the dark storm, there will be light again, there will be a renaissance, and we will restore and we will rebuild,” Holcomb said at an afternoon press conference.
“My wife and I first and foremost want to pass on our condolences to the three Hoosier souls that we lost due to this natural disaster. It was just that — damage, destruction disaster,” he continued.
Holcomb said he is in contact with emergency management officials, as well as local officials in Sullivan and Johnson counties. He also said the Indiana Department of Homeland Security is actively engaging with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assess the damages from the incident and provide support to Hoosiers impacted.
The governor spoke with FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and said they are already on the ground and resources are being coordinated across all levels of government to provide food, water and shelter.
“This is an all hands on deck effort,” Holcomb said.
He noted the disaster declarations help expedite potential federal funding.
Whiteland, in Johnson County just south of Indianapolis, also took a direct hit. Details there are still being gathered.
Ted Funk, meteorologist from the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, attended the Saturday briefing and said he and other staff had spent hours assessing damage in Sullivan that morning.
“There’s absolutely no doubt this was a tornado,” he said.
Funk said preliminarily there is a lot of EF2 damage, which indicates winds between 111 mph and 135 mph. But he noted that in some locations there was EF3 level damage, indicating winds between 136 mph and 165 mph.
He said the tornado warning was given at 10:08 p.m. Friday, giving a lead time of about 22 minutes before it hit.
“Our deepest condolences, and our hearts break for the family of the loved ones who are lost with this terrible tornado,” Funk said. “We’re so glad that so many people did survive. And it’s just it’s very heartbreaking.”
He said crews are out in Johnson County and central Indiana, as well, but he didn’t have detailed information yet on that damage.
Funk said Indiana hasn’t had a tornado of this severity since 2012, when Henryville in southern Indiana was struck.
“We haven’t had anything this devastating for quite a while,” he said.
Holcomb said he would call up the Indiana National Guard “if needed,” but noted various state agencies are currently handling responsibilities.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter warned that storms sometimes invite an opportunity for crime: “People want to do nefarious things — don’t.”
Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said about 200 households were affected, and he believes everyone has been accounted for but “you don’t know.”
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