FORT WAYNE – More than 100,000 Hoosiers in northeast Indiana made it through a sweaty, dark night Friday only to wake to a tree-covered, powerless Saturday of assessing the damage and starting to clean up.
Damage was widespread across the region, with thousands of trees down, hundreds of power lines ripped into tangles and many of the conveniences we take for granted suddenly at a premium.
At one point, I&M reported Saturday, more than 118,000 customers were without power. By 5 p.m., 23,000 had regained service, the utility said, but of those still without electricity, more than 72,000 of them are in the greater Fort Wayne area. Despite bringing in more than 200 additional workers from as far away as Oklahoma, full service is not expected until late Wednesday.
With temperatures forecast to be in the 90s, there will be a lot more sweaty days and nights until things return to normal.
Derrick Moore watched a giant cottonwood tree in his backyard fall Friday night and crush two garages behind his house on Lynn Avenue, near Parkview Hospital's Randallia campus.
"I was looking out the window, and it was … hectic," Moore said. "It just came tumbling down. I was like, 'What the …?' My son was like, 'OMG!' "
Ben Goldsberry, a field supervisor with Three Rivers Ambulance Authority, said falling trees Friday left some people with minor injuries, mostly scrapes and bruises. One or two people received minor burns from power lines, he said.
"We definitely want to caution people to avoid downed power lines because there's no way to be sure they're not live," he said.
On Taylor Street, just south of downtown, Carlos Vasquez was in the parking lot of Hometown Auto Group, picking up the pieces of aluminum siding that had blown off his house. Above him, workers struggled to put a tarp over the building – the wind had lifted part of the roof off and set it down on the other half, peeling off the metal sheeting like an orange.
"I swear to God I saw (a tornado) coming through here," Vasquez said. "It was just nothing but dust coming across. … I was worried because I never saw the skies that dark before."
National Weather Service meteorologist Nick Greenawalt said Vasquez may well have seen a funnel cloud, but that at this point no tornadoes – where the funnel reaches the ground – have been confirmed. Even if there were tornadoes, he said, the countywide winds of 90 mph would have blown away any evidence of one and done more damage than a small, relatively weak tornado anyway.
Though damage is widespread throughout the city – nearly 80 traffic signals were out of action Saturday – the damage in the Lakeside neighborhood was particularly concentrated. At least four vehicles were crushed there, numerous houses had trees fall on them, and there were too many downed trees to count. Drivers are asked to treat intersections without working traffic signals as four-way stops.
Jon Gordon was watching the storm when a tree branch crashed through the window 10 feet away from him. He never heard the glass break over the wind. "It was like a freight train it was so loud," Gordon said.
Across the street from him, a tree at least 4 feet in diameter appeared to have been shredded by the wind, pieces of it strewn like spaghetti across Lake Avenue. One house away in the other direction, a Jeep Cherokee was pulverized by another tree.
City spokesman Frank Suarez said city crews and contracted foresters have worked 12-hour shifts to remove downed trees and branches. Since the storm Friday afternoon, the city's 311 call center had taken more than 3,000 calls, and the 911 dispatch center had also received more than 3,000 calls.
While many side streets were still blocked by fallen trees and wires, most major roads were open to traffic. Exceptions included closures on Ardmore from Sandpoint to Engle; South Anthony at Fox Run Trail (south of Lafayette); and Spy Run Extended from Clinton to Parnell, Suarez said.
In the Lakeside neighborhood, Rivermet Avenue was blocked by trees that sheared off a steel streetlight pole when they fell. Nearby, another tree lay on top of a house.
"It was the weirdest sound ever," said Vicki Hunt, looking at her car where the back window appeared to have simply exploded – there were no leaves, branches or debris to be seen, only shattered glass scattered across the entire street. "It sounded like putting air in the tire – SHHHHHHH. My ears were popping."
Because of the extensive power outages, businesses across the city are closed. Much of the roof on the strip mall at Coliseum and North Clinton Street was torn off.
City fire department spokeswoman Stacey Fleming said firefighters were dispatched to a limited number of fires Friday as a result of the storm.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter Friday at First Assembly of God church at 1400 W. Washington Center Road, near Lima Road, and eight people spent the night, shelter supervisor Amy Poffenberger said.
As of Saturday afternoon, 69 people were signed in to stay overnight at the shelter. Most of them had come because they were without power, Poffenberger said.
"People are free to come at any time," she said.