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‘It was ours’: Monroe County residents struggle with loss in tornado's aftermath

The tornado hit a high of 130 miles per hour in its 3.7 mile path through Monroe County.



Cat Hoosier walks across debris June 17 in the Paynter family residence. Saturday’s severe storm took the entire front of the Paynter family residence. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Trapped in a cage as the world around her ripped open, seven-pound Jack Russell terrier Dottie watched as a tornado tore off the front of her owner’s house Saturday evening and scrambled much of the inside into an uninhabitable pile of debris, mementos and insulation.

Oddly enough, Dottie’s cage wasn’t moved by the tornado, which the National Weather Service said hit a high of 130 miles per hour in its 3.7 mile path through Monroe County.

Two days later, she’s still shaking.

“She saw it all,” her owner Tina Paynter said.

John Paynter looks at his dog Dottie June 17 in front of the Paynter family residence. Dottie witnessed Saturday’s severe storm from her cage in the front of the house. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Tina and her husband John, both 52 years old, were at their Dittemore Road home Saturday evening. They both heard the sirens warning of the tornado earlier, but it wasn’t until John saw the tornado through the back patio door that the threat became real.

He shouted: “It’s here!”

They went to Tina’s sister’s house next door to help lift Tina’s 28-year-old handicapped niece off of the bed and place her under it. That’s when glass flew into the room as the wind broke the windows.

Tina said she had never seen John so scared until that moment.

When the storm had passed, John and Tina walked back to the house through the back door. In the dark, the damage seemed manageable: some fallen trees, a rain gutter partially pulled off the roof, some things thrown here and there in the laundry room.

The devastation was undeniable by the time they reached the kitchen. The dining room, the bedroom and the living room were destroyed, their contents strewn about.

John and Tina’s house is one of the most heavily damaged homes after the tornado. No injuries have been reported after Saturday’s storm, only fallen trees and damage to homes, barns and sheds.

“It’s easy to say afterwards you’re grateful to be alive, but we’ve lived here for 30 years,” John said. “To see it scattered, it’s kind of hard to take. It’s not much, but it was ours.”

***

There was a randomness to what was taken and what was left intact. The contents of the china cabinet in the Paynters’ living room remained unscathed, as did a heart made from roses on the wall of their ruined bedroom.

On West Cowden Road in Ellettsville, Indiana, 49-year-old Greg White was surprised to find an uprooted tree inches away from an untouched collection of stones, a makeshift graveyard for his children’s pets.

While the final resting places of Coco the chihuahua and Banana Smoothie the gerbil remained safe, the rest of White’s property wasn’t so lucky. His yard is now covered in fallen trees, including his favorite maple. Out front, a pile of brush burned next to his driveway.

Gerbil Banana Smoothie’s headstone stands untouched June 17 in the backyard of the White family residence. Banana Smoothie's grave along with past animals' graves at the pet burial site, sustained no damage. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

White was celebrating Fathers’ Day with his wife and children with a weekend camping trip to Lake Sullivan, a little over an hour’s drive away from Ellettsville. They heard the sirens while at a fish fry and only drove home once a neighbor called and told White his yard had been hit by a tornado, ending the trip a day early.

White’s next door neighbor, 71-year-old Mary Howerton, was at home when the tornado hit. She and her 26-year-old granddaughter Danyal gathered a blanket, a pillow and her dog Harley and went to the bathroom in the center of the house.

“We’re gonna die, Mamaw, we’re gonna die,” Danyal said.

“We’re not gonna die today, sweetie,” Howerton replied.

They heard a thud. Howerton got up to investigate.

“Don’t go, Mamaw,” Danyal said. “Don’t go!”

A tree had fallen and hit the corner of the house, lodging itself in the roof and only causing a little internal damage to the ceiling of Howerton’s bedroom. The fallen tree now takes up most of the view from her window.

The power was out for a couple hours, but she had a generator ready to go thanks to her husband Dave’s preparations. Dave died of cancer three years ago, and White has been helping her out with little things ever since. White, who she calls “Lumpy,” turned off the generator for her when the power came back on later that night.

Mary Howerton and her dog Harley look out the window at a tree leaning into their home June 17 in Ellettsville. Howerton’s home experienced damage from the Saturday’s severe storm. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

“My husband always took care of this,” she said. “Now it’s up to me. It’s really hard on me because I don’t know what to do or where to start.”

She started to cry. White put an arm around her.

“We’ll take care of it,” he said.

***

Mary Brosman, 75, lives further down West Cowden Road. Saturday’s tornado wasn’t the first one she’s seen in her 40 years living in Ellettsville. In 1992, one destroyed her entire home.

This time around, the tornado twisted the railing of her front porch toward the front door, damaged her roof, tore the top off one of her backyard sheds and turned another shed upside down. Her garage was completely lifted off the ground and thrown into the fields behind her house. A trailer in the driveway rolled into the backyard.

Brosman was sitting in a recliner looking out the glass of her front door when the storm hit. She never saw a thing until the porch railing curled toward the door.

Mary Brosman looks at her home’s damage June 17 in Ellettsville, Indiana. “Why me?" she said when discussing Saturday’s severe storm and the damage it had done to her home. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Brosman’s whole family was there. Her husband James died May 17, and the family was having a dinner for the first Father’s Day without him. Mary and James would’ve celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary in October.

“It seems like everything all at once is happening,” she said. “Why me?”

Brosman stood in her backyard Monday afternoon and looked out at the damage again. The tornado knocked over a tree she was planning on having cut down anyway.

“I guess that’s one good thing,” she said.

***

The roads where the tornado hit are bordered with fallen trees and debris. The sound of men with chainsaws cutting through trunks fill the air.

Now comes the waiting, for insurance companies to provide estimates of damages and options for those affected, for repairmen and tree service people to come and clear out what they can, for life to return to normal.

The Paynter home is on property that’s been in Tina’s family for over 100 years. John and Tina will remain on the property, living in a custom tiny home John built four or five months ago with Dottie and their other small dog, Jasmine.

Tina said the house will probably be bulldozed over, but now they’re sorting through what they can salvage before rain destroys what the tornado didn’t.

“I wanted some remodeling done, but I didn’t want it this way,” Tina said. “But it’s just stuff. It can be replaced.”

A ceramic angel sits untouched June 17 on the shelves in the Paynter family residence. Saturday’s severe storm took the entire front of the Paynter family residence. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

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