Tornado Destroys Indianapolis Apartments as Severe Weather Sweeps Across Country

A tornado that swept through a neighborhood on the city's east side ripped roofs off several apartment buildings but caused no serious injuries or death, part of a severe storm system sweeping across the country.

A total of 18 people were treated only for "very minor" injuries after the late Friday night storm, said John Ball, the emergency management director for Indianapolis and Marion County.

"It is a miracle that we didn't have serious injuries or death," he said. "A gentleman told me last night at the shelter that he was lying in bed and heard a rumble, and the roof was gone and he saw the sky."

On Saturyday, another tornado was reported in Prince George's County, Maryland, where a fire official said there has been a spike in the number of calls about downed trees and power lines in the area, but no injuries or damage to buildings had been reported.

In Indiana, winds topping 125 mph snapped trees, wrapped metal sheeting around a telephone pole and left a trail of debris through an area roughly four blocks long and a mile wide. The high winds knocked over gas station pumps, shredded roof shingles and scattered power lines and tree branches.

The storm also left some people temporarily homeless. The American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis housed 170 people overnight in an emergency shelter at the First Church of the Nazarene near the destroyed apartment complex, according to Red Cross CEO John Lyter.

The organization set up rows of cots on a basketball court in the church's gym and also offered food and counseling. People started filing in around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, spokeswoman Beth Smietana said.

"Some of these folks came in with the clothes on their backs or pajamas, and they were soaked, too," she said.

More arrived Saturday to register for help or pick up baby formula, bottles and diapers.

Natasha Prim, who registered for help, said she and her mother had finished dinner and were enjoying a quiet night at her apartment when she heard tornado sirens followed by silence.

"All of a sudden you could hear the wind picking up, and it just kept getting stronger and stronger," the 29-year-old Prim said.

They ran to a closet in the middle of her first-floor apartment and heard the storm tear the roof off.

"It just sounded like 20 trains coming at you," she said. "It seemed like forever, but it was probably 45 seconds at that."

The storm blew out the windows of Latasha Lewis' home, tore a hole through her kitchen roof and ripped her screen door off the front door with the frame still attached. Lewis, 28, fled to her mother's house and only managed to grab some clothes. She also stopped by the shelter for help.

Her 1-year-old daughter, Chardea, played with a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll provided by the Red Cross, as people stood in line nearby, waiting to register.

"It could have always been worse," said Latasha's mother, Gwen Lewis. "Thank God, at least we're living."

The tornado was part of a storm system that swept through Illinois, central Indiana and parts of northern Indiana with heavy rain, high winds and thunder and lightning. Eye witnesses also reported a tornado touching down in an open field in Carroll County, said Mike Koch, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis. That twister did no damage.

The weather service said the storm dumped more than 4 inches of rain in White County and nearly 3 inches in about 90 minutes on Fowler in Benton County northwest of Lafayette, but there were no reports of significant flooding, according to Koch.

Meteorologist Ashley Brooks said the storms moved into the area on the edge of a cold front that swept in from the northwest. Before that, a warm front from the south had given Indianapolis only its second 80-degree day in May, an unusually low total.

The storm knocked out power for about 65,000 Indianapolis Power & Light customers. Spokeswoman Crystal Livers-Powers said about 34,000 customers remained without power Saturday evening, and some may have to go without until Monday because of storm damage to transformers and power lines.

Duke Energy, which covers parts of central and southern Indiana, reported nearly 39,000 power outages since Friday afternoon, according to its Web site. Power was still out for 2,908 of its customers by Saturday evening.