10 years later, Nappanee remembers devastating tornado

Published: Oct. 18, 2017 at 7:05 PM EDT
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It’s been 10 years since a powerful tornado raked through the community of Nappanee on October 18, 2007. While the scars are still there, the town has come back from that night.

Meteorologist Mike Hoffman was in the StormTeam 16 Weather Lab that evening and tracked the tornado right to -- and through -- Nappanee. He’s been credited with saving lives that evening.

"I think it’s a team effort when it comes to saving lives. That includes the National Weather Service and their storm spotters, and perhaps a guardian angel or two. It’s absolutely amazing that nobody died in this tornado," Mike admits.

When the sun came up the next day, the devastation was total on the south and east sides of Nappanee.

It all started earlier in the evening when a tornado watch was issued for the entire area.

"I was on the air for more than three hours that evening with 16 Doppler Max, saying things like 'This thunderstorm's rapidly developing, and it looks like that will continue as these move north-eastward,'" Mike remembers. "It was dark, but we were still getting reports of this tornado crossing U.S. 30, then some county roads and eventually State Road 19 just south of town. I remember saying '14 minutes to Nappanee,' and 'Six minutes to Nappanee,' and eventually 'It’s hitting Nappanee.'"

One of the survivors put it this way: "We were watching the news and the weather reports. We put the kids in the downstairs bathroom and huddled there. Then the windows went, the roof went. Stayed there until they came and got us."

"As I listened to some of the stories the next day, I could not believe that so many people had survived, including a man and his wife that I interviewed," Mike explains. "I walked with him into what was left of his home. He watched the door swing open and a large piece of furniture go flying across his living room. They dove for cover and somehow survived."

This was before most people had smart phones, but the key to surviving was still information, whether from the TV or from the sirens blaring.

Another survivor, an older woman living alone, had this to say: "It started pouring, so I turned on channel 16, and I heard them say it was five minutes to Nappanee. I went for the basement, and I no more than got downstairs, I heard this awful noise."

That noise was a roar. Many said it sounded like a freight train, and that noise was the sound of things breaking. It’s as simple and as scary as that. After all is said and done, though, things that have broken can be fixed.

One man had this to say after seeing the carnage: "The accumulation of 50 years of things is gone, and it was gone in a matter of seconds. But it’s not the end of the world. I have a loving family."

It’s that love of family and love of community that brought Nappanee back so that today it's stronger than ever.

"One of the things I will always remember is people coming together to help," Mike says. "Thousands showed up the following Saturday from towns all across the area. The Amish were already rebuilding a barn two days later. It was absolutely amazing. Afterward, the mayor at the time, Larry Thompson, actually presented me with the key to the city of Nappanee. It’s something I’ll treasure forever."

On Wednesday night, Mike and his wife were invited to a dinner in Nappanee to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the tornado. Mike says he's looking forward to hearing more stories of survival.