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Indiana Picking Up The Pieces

Residents of tornado-ravaged central and northern Indiana communities were eyeing the damage and feeling lucky today.

No one was killed when three twisters spawned by severe storms tore across the state Thursday, destroying homes and businesses and blowing trucks off highways. Eighteen people in five counties suffered minor injuries, the state Emergency Management Agency said.

"Thank God, we have had no injuries. God was with us," said Hancock County Sheriff Jim Bradbury.

A tornado that first touched down on Indianapolis' southeast side around 6 p.m. EST cut across Hancock County, then rolled in a northwest-by-west line across Henry and Randolph counties, staying on the ground for close to 70 miles, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Eddy.

The tornado sounded like a jet approaching, said Dave Carter, who lives in Cumberland, just outside of Indianapolis.

"You could see shingles twirling in the sky. That was the last I saw of it before I dove for cover," Carter said. "There were no (warning) sirens."

The tornado blew out the back wall of the Rainbow House Academy, leaving cribs and strollers exposed among the rubble. The roof on the back half of the academy collapsed, but a jungle gym stood undamaged behind the center.

No one was inside when the tornado struck. The day care had closed just minutes earlier.

Some of the worst damage was reported in eastern Marion County and adjoining Hancock County, where two tractor-trailers and a United Parcel Service truck were overturned along Interstate 70.

Rick Batza, a spokesman for Marion County, said rescue workers were doing a house-by-house and business-by-business search Thursday night near where the day care center was destroyed to check on residents. Of the three people reported injured, one was trapped inside a collapsed building and had to be rescued by fire officials but suffered only had minor injuries.

"We've been very lucky as far as injuries," Batza said.

Firefighters reported six homes destroyed or damaged in the Buck Creek Meadows subdivision near Cumberland.

A second tornado touched down in Montgomery County about an hour later and then skipped over to Clinton, Tipton, Howard and Grant counties before dissipating by 8 p.m.

Hardest hit was Swayzee in Grant County and the Howard County community of Greentown, near where eight people were trapped in a collapsed home.

Firefighters and police pulled the trapped people out of the wreckage after the house collapsed on the basement they were using as shelter against the storm. None of them were injured.

"We were able to pull them out and everyone was all right," said Howard County Chief Deputy Dave McKinney.

Close to three dozen homes in the Greentown area were damaged. Snapped trees and mangled metal chunks littered the streets. Power lines were draped over cars, yards and a house. Authoriies set up emergency shelters for those made homeless.

Witnesses said the funnel cloud was 100 feet wide.

Conner, coach of the Taylor High School golf team, huddled in his home's hallway with nine members of his squad and his family. The group had gathered there for an awards banquet.

"We don't have a basement. We all just crowded together and prayed silently," he said. "All the windows were shattered, every single one."

A gas line was damaged near Taylor High School, three miles south of Kokomo, and officials reported that the school building itself was damaged.

The third tornado tore through a mobile home park south of Nappanee in Kosciusko County about 7:30 p.m., destroying one of the homes and damaging others.

One person was taken to Kosciusko Community Hospital in Warsaw, was treated in the hospital's emergency room and released. Three people from one family, a child and two adults, were taken to Elkhart General Hospital. All were treated and released.

A spokesman for Gov. Frank O'Bannon said he planned to fly over the affected areas Friday morning to survey the damage.

Written by Rex W. Huppke

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