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Tornado survivors tell harrowing stories
Scripps Howard News Service


November 07, 2005

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - A ghastly scene of twisted metal, scraps of insulation and shredded furniture and clothing filled the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park, and survivors are telling harrowing stories of hearing victims moaning for help.

At least 17 people were killed and 108 injured when the tornado roared through the trailer park southeast of Evansville around 2 a.m. Sunday. Of the 326 lots at Eastbrook, at least 123 received some damage - and of those, more than 50 were destroyed, officials said.

"We could see them: There were people under walls; people half-naked with just sheets on, bleeding. It's terrifying," Eastbrook resident Ryan Belwood said. Awakened by the roar of the tornado, Belwood dashed into the pitch-black darkness with a flashlight and tried to help some of his neighbors free one pinned woman. They could hear her but only saw her hand under a wall, Belwood said. The wall was too heavy for the neighbors to lift, he said.

"Debris was covering (victims); there was really nothing we could do," said Belwood, 26. "Gas mains were blowing, you could hear it, smell it."

A huge group of rescuers, including 150 firefighters from 41 fire departments, about 50 police and 100 Indiana National Guardsmen, descended on the trailer park to pull victims to safety. Emergency officials called in two rented cranes Sunday to pick up heavy trailer debris so rescuers could look for any trapped victims underneath, with the help of a trained rescue dog's keen nose.

Firefighters unearthing debris found an 8-year-old girl, injured but alive, German Township Fire Chief John Buckman said.

Splintered into wood skeletons, many of the house trailers had been torn off their foundations. A spray of insulation, household knicknacks and shredded clothing was spattered eastward into the woods of the adjacent Angel Mounds State Historic Site.

After the tornado struck, most Eastbrook residents who were able to leave on their own evacuated to a Red Cross shelter or to the homes of relatives. Most had departed by the time a helicopter bearing Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels touched down Sunday so state officials could inspect the damage.

Daniels clutched two items that he said he picked up during his daylong storm inspection: a page of mounted family snapshots that got separated from someone's photograph album, and a church-service bulletin. The first hymn listed for Sunday's service was "I'll Fly Away," the governor said.

Eastbrook residents Marcella and Clifford Rawlings were asleep in bed when the tornado violently shook their mobile home around 2 a.m., awakening them. "We both jumped that high in the bed," Marcella Rawlings said. "It just scared you so fast that we thought it was an earthquake."

Even for Eastbrook residents whose house trailers survived relatively intact, it is unclear when officials will allow them to return. Power lines, natural gas and other utilities were knocked out by the tornado.

Police, sheriff's deputies and National Guardsman were guarding the devastated trailer park Sunday night, though there were no reports of looting.

In an eerie echo of Hurricane Katrina, rescuers used orange spray paint to mark an "X" on each trailer they searched.

The scene at Lynn Road and Pollack Avenue outside the trailer park was chaos as residents stumbled their way out from early morning darkness into blinding emergency vehicle lights. Many were bleeding or limping, some wrapped in blankets or still their pajamas. Traffic on Pollack was backed up with emergency vehicles and the cars of family members rushing to reach loved ones in the mobile home park, while onlookers caused traffic jams at the Interstate 164 overpass overlooking the scene.

"I've never experienced disaster. I would never want to experience this disaster again," Belwood said. He was thankful that he was uninjured and that his own mobile home survived relatively unscathed.

"I'm thanking God. I see these people, I'm thankful how lucky I was," Belwood said. "There's a lot of homes that's just not there any more. And it's sad. It's just sad."


Contact Bryan Corbin of The Evansville Courier in Indiana at

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