Remembering the Nappanee tornado five years later

Five years ago, Thursday night, an EF3 tornado ripped through the town of Nappanee. It destroyed many buildings and some people were injured, but thankfully no one died.

The people of this community are coming together Thursday night to reflect, pray and give thanks for the fact that not one life was lost in this EF3 tornado.

Just like in 2007, Mayor Larry Thompson and I drove through town this week, following the path of the tornado.

"If you remember from five years ago, all the homes from here down to the church, all the telephone poles, there were huge trees, everything was just taken out here," explains Mayor Thompson.

Also on State Road 19, in what was once a school, children were playing inside as the tornado hit.

"There was probably a group of kids playing volley ball in here,” says Pastor Mick Tomlinson from the New Beginnings Assembly of God.

You would think that a tornado hit the roof like that it would bust all to pieces, no it just picked it up and turned it around.

“It took a path and of course it just took the whole sanctuary of our church and twisted a little bit that way,” explains Pastor Tomlinson.

Then the F3 moved into the south east neighborhoods of Nappannee.

“Every home in this area had damage, whether a roof damage, windows blown out or a door blown off,” says Mayor Thompson.

But the center of the tornado left its mark with total destruction.

“Short Street like a lot of streets here were really damaged,” explains Mayor Thompson. “We tore them down, put them in dumpsters. There was a dumpster in every drive way and that's where their homes went.”

“A mixture of old and new buildings were right here,” says Mayor Thompson. “They did not rebuild. They had the most massive damage and it just totally wiped them out, just trash and buildings on top of buildings.”

Finished units were just recently destroyed and tore up the foundation and hauled it off.

Along U.S. 6 several fast food restaurants were destroyed.

“If you did not know you would not have recognized U.S. 6 as what we know it to be,” says Mayor Thompson. “It was just a debri field.”

And before the estimated 120 mile per hour winds left town, it hit a new subdivision.

“The units on one side really took it, just to see that new construction ripped apart was pretty amazing,” explains Mayor Thompsn. “Strong faith, good friends, good family helped everyone through the rough times. Think about the things that take enormous amount of coordination. In a disaster happened overnight here by volunteers, just a cool thing. Many of these homes had someones group come by and had a mentor help them rebuild. A Methodist Church from Ft. Wayne, Indiana who helped them side the house and did some things.”

Unfortunately the push to get federal assistance by declaring Nappanee a disaster area, never came through.

“The main reason we did not get FEMA is because we did not lose a big public building, but more importantly all our people had insurance,” says Mayor Thompson.

And much of that insurance money helped rebuild Nappanee. It helped new beginnings church converted an old school next door.

“It had a gymnasium, it had plenty of room, when you go from 8,000 square feet to 18,000 square feet that's a phenomenal rise,” explains Pastor Thomlinson.

“That building and the buildings in back of it that are no longer there are our City Street Department,” says Mayor Thompson. A blessing just like the church, we got a new Street Department out of it and a lot of new equipment.”

The tornado bonded the area more than ever.

"Nappanee is stronger than we could have ever been prior to the tornado,” says Mayor Thompson. “We're a tough bunch and we help each other. And we just went this horrible disaster that no lives were lost. While the recession affected a lot of people and people lost jobs, it was kind of the same feeling during the tornado. Look we will survive this; we are not going to funerals. It helped us through the recession."

"As the Mayor you are proud of that. You are proud of your people and the city people and all the volunteers. The church people were off the chart unbelievable.”

They will be having service here Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. Many people in town still say that it is just a miracle that no one was killed in the tornado.

The tornado was classified as an EF3 tornado with estimated wind speeds of 150 miles per hour.


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