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Holcomb tours Sullivan damage, declares emergency

Gov. Holcomb toured Sullivan Saturday after devastating tornadoes ripped through the area Friday night.
George Hale
Gov. Holcomb toured Sullivan Saturday after devastating tornadoes ripped through the area Friday night.

Gov. Eric Holcomb toured some of the destroyed neighborhoods in the south side of Sullivan, Indiana, on Saturday after signing an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Sullivan and Johnson counties.

"First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have perished in this storm and all who are suffering losses because of this incident," Holcomb said.

Read more: 3 people dead, searches continue after Friday night storms

He also said he would continue to be in contact with local officials in both counties as well as emergency management officials. According to Holcomb, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was already working with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to assess the damage.

Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said efforts at the scene were still "search-and-rescue oriented".

State police urged citizens to stay away from impacted areas because of “dangerous conditions” as cleanup efforts commence.

Impacted areas in the south side of Sullivan are under a curfew 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Indiana State Police superintendent Douglas Carter warned those looking for a “crime of opportunity” in the chaos.

“This sometimes creates an opportunity for people who want to do nefarious things. Don’t. Don't. We will have a very strong set of eyes out there,” he said.

National Weather Service Meteorologist-in-Charge in Indianapolis Ted Funk confirmed that the deadly storm late Friday night produced a tornado in Sullivan.

Funk estimates that the tornado had a path between eight and 10 miles. Impacted areas showed signs of "EF2" damage, with winds reaching 111-135 mph and "EF3" damage in the most impacted parts, with 135-165 mph winds likely.

Funke said that the National Weather Service provided residents about 22 minutes of warning before winds hit the area, but not all locals got the news with much time to spare.

Johnna Walters' home was entirely destroyed. She says her family sought shelter only 10 minutes before the storm hit them after receiving a call from a concerned relative.

Her family of four all huddled in their home’s bathtub with a mattress pulled over their heads.

“This is actually the home I came home from the hospital in. And I lived here for like 34 years, and last night took it all away,” she said.

Walters’ family was not alone. Mayor Lamb says over 200 structures including homes and businesses across the county were “severely heavily damaged.”

Many more sustained less serious damage in the strong winds.

Emergency relief services were available at Abundant Grace House of Prayer. Volunteers from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and other relief organizations arrived to help administer aid and clear the area.

A group of local residents organized by Jeff Regan of Carlisle, Indiana, arranged a drive-by food station at a nearby gas station.

Regan said a local anonymous “box store” donated $10,000 worth of frozen food to give away since a power outage meant it would be thrown out. Hundreds of residents filed through during the day to pick up frozen pizzas, fresh fruit, bottled water and clothing.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority was also offering vouchers for up to 30 days for residents who require emergency housing.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett also announced that some hotels in the city were responding to help house displaced residents.

Those wishing to offer volunteer services can sign up at Sullivan High School.