Picking up the pieces

By Gus Bode

After a tornado killed 23 in Indiana and Kentucky on Nov. 6, victims rummage through the rubble to piece back their life

Newburgh, Ind. – As the 200 mph winds of a deadly tornado peeled the roof off his house, bringing a tree crashing down on his garage, Scott Elmendorf and his family huddled in his basement laundry room.

Elmendorf, an undecided freshman from Newburgh, Ind., had returned home for the weekend to take a break from working out with the SIUC baseball team and studying. But next time he goes home, it won’t be to his childhood home just outside of Evansville, Ind., about 100 miles from Carbondale.

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“I’ve lived there since I was born,” he said. “I don’t think this has really hit me yet.”

At 1:46 a.m. Nov. 6, he parked his black 2000 Ford Explorer in his driveway just yards away from the biggest tree he has ever seen, Elmendorf said. Fifteen minutes later, shifting air pressure shattered all the glass in his car. Winds jarred the looming tree out of the ground and onto the garage.

“If I’d been home (about) 10 minutes later, I’d be pretty ugly,” Elmendorf said.

He made it home, changed clothes and headed downstairs to check his e-mail when he felt his ears popping as the pressure changed.

His 17-year-old brother Craig and his mother Karen reached the safety of the basement seconds before the storm struck, and the family lost very few possessions. The missing cat, Pepper, appeared on the basement couch shortly after winds destroyed the house’s top half.

The tornado, which struck just after 2 a.m., shot through Indiana damaging more than 600 homes and killing 23 people. The media circulated dozens of photographs of a devastated trailer park less than a mile away from Elmendorf’s home.

Between the park and his house sit dozens of homes completely unharmed by the disaster, but Elmendorf said, “This should have been a lot worse. From what I heard, it went right down our street.”

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The street once sported complete shade coverage, but after the disaster, most of the trees lay in pieces on the residents’ lawns. On Saturday, an army of volunteers shoveled wreckage, moved possessions and repaired damaged landscape.

After the tornado, Elmendorf went back to school because of baseball practice and tests, but his mother Karen was still at the house clad in a bright red shirt that said “Tornado Survivor 11-6-05.”

“I’ve gotten everything out that needs to come out except for my cat,” she said. “She’s still hiding.”

Their possessions have been transported to Elmendorf’s nearby grandmother’s house, where his family is temporarily staying. The damaged house will be razed, and a replacement will be built.

Going home to an unfamiliar house in a neighborhood will be odd, Elmendorf said. However, the family is in good spirits.

Authorities asked victims to spray paint addresses on the front of their homes to identify the effected residents. Elmendorf’s younger brother spray-painted “Bring Us Beer!!!” on the front.

A volunteer approached them as they cleaned, with a single bottle of beer to donate, Karen said.

Kindness like that has made this easier to handle, Elmendorf said. None of his teachers punished him for missing a few days of class in the immediate aftermath. Baseball coach Dan Callahan said the Athletic Department was even able to donate some money.

“This hits close to home because it hits one of our athletes,” Callahan said.

Reporter Zack Quaintance can be reached at [email protected]

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