Severe weather cut a path of damage across Johnson County Saturday afternoon.
The weather came up so fast so fast local officials didn’t get a notification to activate tornado sirens, according to Johnson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director Stephanie Sichting. When the weather turned severe, there was only a thunderstorm watch for the county, she said.
The National Weather Service (NWS) did not issue a tornado warning for the storm until it was already out of Johnson County, in the area near Shelbyville. The storm did more significant damage in Shelby County and seemed to increase in power as it went east, damage reports from local officials indicate. There was also damage south of Johnson County in Brown County and Bartholomew County.
It is unknown at this time whether the severe weather that developed Saturday afternoon was a tornado or strong straight line winds. NWS was expected to survey the damage Sunday to determine what type of storm it was, Sichting said.
People on social media reported seeing rotation in clouds near Trafalgar, but there was less damage there than other southern Johnson County towns, said Charles Roberts, Trafalgar police chief. The town got lucky, he said.
The storm intensified quickly and cut a path of damage across southern Johnson County, from Trafalgar to Edinburgh roughly in the path of State Road 252, Sichting said. However, Nineveh and Princes Lakes also saw significant damage, she said.
In Princes Lakes, several homes were damaged by trees and both trees and powerlines were blocking four streets, said Greg Southers, town marshal. With the whole town out of power, public safety officials brought generators to a home with people on life support to make sure their life saving medical devices stayed on, he said.
In the surrounding area, firefighters responded to two collapsed homes and at least one person was entrapped, Sichting said. No deaths or significant injuries were reported as a result of the storm so far, she said.
Nineveh resident Davina Anderson said powerlines went down on three sides of her house, trapping her and her family inside for several hours. A utility crew eventually came to clear a path out of the home, but told her Saturday night it could be a while before the lines are fixed on her property.
Edinburgh seems to be the hardest hit area of the county. The storm seems to be the most severe the town has seen in a while, said Dan Cartwright, town manager.
“Two of my people who have been with the town for years said they’ve never seen anything this bad before,” Cartwright said.
An EF-2 tornado that hit southern Johnson County and Brown County in June 2008 took an eerily similar path through the town back then, said Doyne Little, police chief.
This time power lines all over town were down, trees had fallen on homes, the town aquatic center was damaged and trees fell in the park and cemetery, Cartwright said. The new scoreboard that was just put up at Edinburgh Community High Schools’ football field was also knocked down by high winds.
“It was either a tornado or some really hard straight line winds,” Cartwright said. “It came straight down 252 from the west.”
In the aftermath of the storm, many Edinburgh residents came out to survey the damage and help clean it up — regardless of whether it was their own home.
Edinburgh teen Brayden Cratty, 14, was at Edinburgh’s Parks and Recreation building, and Trenton Schmidt, 15, was at his home near downtown Edinburgh when the storm came through. After the storm passed, the two went out to help clear fallen limbs from outside a home on Main Street.
The home wasn’t their own, but the two wanted to help their neighbors, they said.
“The guy’s not home, but we wanted to help clean it up,” Schmidt said.
A few streets over by Edinburgh Community High School, student-athletes and their parents were examining the damage done to the football field. A scoreboard that was replaced earlier this year collapsed and was destroyed by the winds from the storm.
Scott Murphy, the father of an Edinburgh player, came to the field after seeing a social media post from the team’s varsity coach saying the scoreboard had blown down. A lot of donations made the new scoreboard possible, so it was heartbreaking to see it destroyed — especially after the football team’s success this past season, he said.
“Football had major success this year. It’s really sad (the scoreboard) is down,” Murphy said.
Cole White, 15, was also disappointed to see what happened to the scoreboard in the aftermath of the storm.
“It sucks that the scoreboard went down,” he said.
White, who said he plans to join the football team next year, has been trying to help people with clearing up the trees and tree limbs that came down since the storm. He’s walked throughout the area near the school seeing if people need help with the cleanup, he said.
“I feel bad for a lot of people with all the trees and stuff down,” White said.
Just outside of town, Camp Atterbury was also damaged by the storm. The chapel at the Indiana National Guard base was heavily damaged, but the base is otherwise operational, said Lt. Col. Randi Bougere, communications director. Staff at the base is looking for an alternative location for church services, she said.
The was also significant damage in Taylorsville, just south of Edinburgh. Several homes were heavily damaged by fallen trees at a Taylorsville trailer park, making it the hardest hit area of Bartholomew County, according to a media release from county officials.
In the aftermath of the storm, southbound lanes of U.S. 31 were shut down in Amity and southbound lanes of Interstate 65 were shut down north of Edinburgh because of downed trees for several hours. With power out and roads impassable in some parts of town, Edinburgh officials also blocked off State Road 252 and other streets temporarily to give clean up crews room to do their work.
Side streets and county roads were also littered with trees and downed power lines. Utility crews, police officers, firefighters, county and town employees were cleaning up from the storm overnight and will continue to do so until order is restored, officials said.
There were so many calls during the storm that the Johnson County 911 Center and public safety agencies in southern Johnson County had a hard time getting resources organized, Sichting said. That’s even after calling in extra dispatchers in anticipation of the severe weather, she said.
“Hopefully, we will learn from this and have a better plan in place for the fire response next time. They were going everywhere. They had no clue where to go because there was so much going on,” Sichting said. “We are going to learn from this, because you always learn from these events.”
Reporter Noah Crenshaw and Editor Leeann Doerflein contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said that the Johnson County 911 Center did not have time to activate the sirens, but the story was updated with a clarification from Sichting that the call volume and the lack of siren activation were not related.