Tornadoes in Indiana: What we know about damage in Winchester, Selma and Madison

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Severe weather and at least one confirmed tornado swept through parts of central Indiana Thursday night, leaving behind a trail of damage. At least 38 injuries were reported.

Two rounds hit central Indiana on Thursday. The first wave brought hail, strong winds and thunderstorm warnings to the area from the late morning through early afternoon hours.

The second wave, according to the National Weather Service, occurred later in the evening hours, producing large hail, damaging winds and “potential tornadoes.” It led to tornado and thunderstorm warnings in several counties.

While the severe threat is now over, residents are picking up the pieces in the wake of those storms. Two of the hardest hit areas were Winchester in Randolph County and Selma in Delaware County.

Teams from the National Weather Service will send damage assessment teams to both communities on Friday morning. They’ll work to confirm tornadoes hit the area and determine their strength. NWS said it may take some time to determine the EF rating, though as of 3:20 p.m. on Friday at least one tornado was confirmed.

Here’s what we know so far.

Randolph County/Winchester
A confirmed tornado with a preliminary rating of EF3 struck Winchester on Thursday night.

Around 8 p.m., amateur radio reported a tornado in Winchester. At the time, a tornado warning was in effect. Randolph County Sheriff Art Moystner said the storm struck a Walmart, located at 950 East Greenville Pike, and Taco Bell, located at 951 Greenville Pike.

Severe weather destroys Winchester Taco Bell
A red travel warning was in effect Friday morning in Randolph County, the highest level of travel advisory. It means travel is restricted to emergency management workers. Residents should refrain from travel, comply with necessary emergency measures and cooperate with local officials and law enforcement.

“We do know that there have been some buildings and homes that have been completely destroyed and that work will begin in the morning to actually go through and subdivide every single one of those properties and do everything in our power to find out if there is still anyone in the confines of those collapsed buildings,” said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter during an overnight news conference.

Carter said Gov. Eric Holcomb had authorized the activation of Task Force 1 to help residents in the wake of the storm.

Play VideoAn overview of the latest storm information in Winchester, Randolph County.

“They will be on sight here supporting the city, supporting Randolph County for an undetermined period of time, but I know they will stay until the work is done and every single person is accounted for,” Carter said.

“Please do not self-deploy to the county or to the city. Please do not, as you can see on Main Street right outside of where we are standing now, there is no power, so everything is dark,” he said.

Yorktown Fire Department said firefighters responded to a home on E. Base Road in Winchester that completely collapsed. Two people were trapped under the debris after hiding in a closet during the storm. Firefighters used airbags and the Jaws of Life to lift the debris off the trapped victims and rescue them.

Randolph County HSEM and Randolph E-911 reported nearly 40 injuries, with 12 people being taken to area hospitals. As of 3:30 a.m. Friday, no one had been reported missing, the agencies said.

Indiana Michigan Power reported more than 5,000 customers were without power. Temporary shelters were established at Winchester Community High School and Willard Elementary.

Randolph Southern School Corporation, Randolph Central Schools and Monroe Central School Corporation canceled classes on Friday.

Utility poles down, thousands without power
While reporting in Randolph County, a FOX59/CBS4 crew stopped near State Road 32 and 625 West. Telephone poles were down for about a mile-long stretch of State Road 32, just outside of Winchester.

Jacob Griffith with the Indiana Department of Transportation said the storms left a significant amount of “clutter and debris” on area roads.

“A lot of the roads are impassible,” Griffith said. “We’re just trying to get pedestrians and drivers safely around the detours.”

Griffith suggested avoiding SR 32 entirely if possible. He noted significant damage across the community.

“A lot of stores [have been damaged],” he said. “There’s a Taco Bell that’s been flattened. There’s debris and trees down everywhere. Power outages in mass quantities. There’s a lot of hurt people. It’s just not a real good situation in Winchester right now.”

As of 11 a.m., Indiana Michigan Power said their mobilized crews of 400 line workers have restored power to roughly 85% of the customers who lost power during the storms.

As of 5:30 p.m., around 1,300 customers remain without power. Most customers are expected to have their power restored by 10 p.m. Indiana Michigan Power said that “a handful” of customers may experience longer outages due to extensive damage to a transmission line along State Road 32.

Delaware County/Selma
The same system hit Delaware County, causing significant damage. The community of Selma was particularly hit hard.

At least one person was taken to the hospital, according to Delaware County EMA. The agency’s early estimates indicated the storm damaged about 50% of the structures in Selma.

The Emergency Operations Center has been activated.

Thursday night, crews began debris removal operations; a comprehensive damage assessment will follow. A reunification center was set up at Wapahani High School.

Liberty-Perry Community Schools will be closed on Friday.

“LPSelma will be closed on March 15, 2024 due to tornado damage in Selma. We will not have eLearning. Please be safe,” the district said in a social media post.

“The safety and well-being of our residents remain our top priority, and we will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available,” Delaware County EMA said in an update. “We extend our gratitude to the dedicated first responders, volunteers, and community members who are working tirelessly to support those impacted by this devastating event.”

Delaware County was under a yellow travel advisory, meaning residents may encounter restrictions during routine travel due to hazardous conditions.

Selma resident recalls ‘big crash’
FOX59/CBS4 talked to Selma resident Amanda Joris-Earle, who was standing in her house when a pair of trees fell onto her porch.

“I was inside in my front bedroom right behind where porch is,” she said. “I was gathering cats to take down to get to shelter, and right as I was grabbing one of the cats, I hear a crack and a boom and just the big crash.”

She hurried downstairs for shelter, where several other people had gathered. Once the storm passed and she felt it was safe to go back upstairs, she saw significant damage on the porch.

“I think something caught that tree,” she said. “Like a funnel cloud or the tip of a funnel cloud probably caught that tree, because it’s actually from the back corner of the house right near the bedroom. For it to be landing this way, it had to be turned. So I feel like something just picked it up and set it right where it is.”

Friday morning news conference
During a Friday morning news conference, Winchester Mayor Bob Cook reiterated that 38 people were injured, with three of them considered critical. Twenty-two homes were destroyed and 110 were significantly damaged, the mayor said.

‘Very lucky’ Officials speak morning after eastern Indiana tornado impacted Winchester
Police, fire and utility crews worked overnight to get a handle on the situation, Cook said during the news conference. The high school remained available as a shelter, providing residents with resources from the American Red Cross.

Gov. Eric Holcomb told Cook state resources would be available as long as needed. He applauded the mayor and his team for quickly responding to “nature’s wrath.”

Indiana State Police said officials will be restricting access to three of the hardest-hit areas, allowing only residents of those areas to be there.

Holcomb was headed to one of those neighborhoods to get a firsthand look at the damage.

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