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Purdue specialist: Back-to-back storms test state's disaster response

August 29, 2016
photo of 2016 tornado damage in Kokomo, IN

State relief agencies were calling for more volunteers and financial contributions to help victims of back-to-back storms that triggered flooding and tornadoes across a wide swath of north-central Indiana over the past 10 days, damaging homes, commercial buildings and crops and leaving at least a dozen people injured.

While the extent of the damage was still being assessed, it was uncertain how much federal aid would be available for Indiana, said Steve Cain, Purdue Extension disaster communication specialist and Indiana contact for the national Extension Disaster Education Network.

"Because of so many recurring disasters, some of which are ongoing across the nation, we will not likely get all of the national disaster assistance that we might have gotten five years ago," Cain said. "This will have to be Hoosiers helping Hoosiers. Regardless of the scale of the disaster, the impact on individual lives and property is the same."

St. Joseph County and other parts of the north-central Indiana region known as Michiana received almost nine inches of rain during a storm Aug. 15-16. The total of 7.69 inches of rain that fell in South Bend on Aug. 15 set a record for most rainfall on any date in the city. Flooded streets were closed, and more than 700 homes were evacuated. Initial damage estimates exceeded $4 million.

Cain said rebuilding efforts from the flooding alone could take up to two years. The first priority was to help residents clear their homes of waterlogged belongings, a process called "mucking out."

"The timetable of the recovery depends on the money that's available," Cain said. "Many of the areas affected by the flooding in South Bend were lower-income neighborhoods where residents had no flood insurance because their homes were not in a flood plain."

On Wednesday (Aug. 24), a severe storm system covering much of the central part of the state produced a series of tornadoes. Kokomo and neighboring communities in Howard County, about 50 miles north of Indianapolis, were hardest hit. At least three funnel clouds were reported in Marion County and another was sighted near Delphi in Carroll County. Heavy rains and strong straight-line winds were recorded throughout the region.

Damage estimates were just underway Friday (Aug. 26) as residents, emergency workers and volunteers began to sift through the debris.

Jane Crady, coordinator of disaster preparedness and response for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and president of Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, said people wanting to help should make a monetary donation to their local disaster relief agency or a trusted charity so officials could purchase whatever supplies were needed in an affected area.

"Cash is always better," she said.

VOAD members were already on the ground in St. Joseph County and more would be on their way to the areas where the tornadoes hit, Crady said.

"We are responding but as we move into the long-term recovery phase, we will need more help," she said. "We encourage all Hoosiers to join us in the rebuilding efforts."

Donations to assist tornado victims in Howard County are being accepted by the United Way of Howard County at 210 W. Walnut St., Kokomo, IN 46902.

For more information on how to make donations to support relief in St. Joseph County, contact Cain at 765-494-8410, cain@purdue.edu.

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