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Indiana town cleans up after tornado

Several hundred homes, businesses damaged and destroyed in Nappanee.

BY P.J. HELLER | NAPPANEE, Ind. | October 20, 2007

Residents in this northern Indiana town continued this weekend to clean up after a tornado damaged several hundred homes and businesses.

"The whole town was impacted and a fairly major section of town was hit," noted the Rev. Ruben Chupp of the North Main Street Mennonite Church.

City workers, along with utility crews, residents, business people and volunteers, began cleaning up Friday from the twister estimated to have winds of up to 165 mph - that struck the night before.

The twister damaged or destroyed an estimated 250 homes and businesses. Five people suffered minor injuries.

"I walked around town this morning and was really surprised we didn't have some serious injuries and some possible fatalities," Chupp said after surveying the damage along with other local pastors.

He attributed the small number of injuries to the fact that people had ample warning that the storm was approaching and that they sought shelter.

"The siren no more than when off and the tornado was soon here, but there was still enough warning so people could seek shelter," he said.

Chupp's home and church were not damaged and both had electrical power.

"I didn't think we would have lights any time today," he said. "I would have thought we might be having worship services with candles and lanterns on Sunday."

About 400 people remained without power Friday afternoon. Power was expected to be fully restored in the next few days. The Nappanee Missionary Church was serving as a clearinghouse for residents impacted by the storm.

Chupp said cleanup efforts got quickly under way after the storm hit the town, located about 20 miles southeast of South Bend. Businesses with heavy equipment were assisting city crews with the clean up, he added.

An organized debris removal effort organized by the city was scheduled for Sunday morning; residents and volunteers were told to gather in the local high school parking lot and from there will be bused to the hard-hit areas.

Chupp said he has received telephone calls from people offering assistance and asking how they can help. He said he also was contacted by Mennonite Disaster Service, which was expected to respond.

"I'm not surprised at the way people have turned out," he said. "I'm surprised at how much has gotten done.

"It seems like all different sectors of the community - business people, insurance folks, the power company and city government - has functioned, in my estimation, in a highly efficient manner," he said.

Chupp said he expected owners of some hardest-hit businesses and homes would have to decide whether to repair their buildings or level them and rebuild. He said six members of his congregation were "deeply impacted" by the twister.

Among the major employers in the southern Elkhart County town affected were Gulf Stream Coach and Fairmont Homes, makers of recreational vehicles, motor homes and manufactured housing. Officials there said they expected most plants to resume production Tuesday with full production resuming within a week.

"We are fortunate to have sustained only limited damage to major structures and our manufacturing facilities," officials said in a news release. "We have experienced some product damage and have much debris to clear from our properties. There has been no long-term devastation to Gulf Stream or Fairmont Homes."

Also reported heavily damaged was the New Beginnings Assembly of God Church.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was on the ground for 20 miles with a maximum width of one-half mile. Before ripping into Nappanee, it destroyed eight homes and heavily damaged nine others in northwestern Kosciusko County.

Nappanee, population 6,500, is described as the center of one of the largest Amish settlements in the United States.

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