Tornado confirmed in Region

2008-08-05T00:00:00Z Tornado confirmed in RegionTIMES STAFF nwitimes.com
August 05, 2008 12:00 am  • 

The devastation in Griffith following violent storms there late Monday and early Tuesday was caused by an F2 tornado, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service confirmed.

"This looks like tornado damage to me," said Tim Hallbach, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, while walking through the hardest hit areas of Griffith.

Hallbach said he initially thought the destruction in Griffith may have been caused by heavy winds, but further examination led him to believe a tornado touched down.

Hallbach estimated winds reached 120 mph at the peak of the storm.

Throughout the Region, some 52,000 NIPSCO customers remained without power as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to NIPSCO representatives. Of the 52,000, 44,000 are in Lake County, 4,800 were in Porter County with Valparaiso being the hardest hit. LaPorte County had about 1,600 customers without power.

Along U.S. 30, traffic lights were out at Ind. 51 in Hobart, Joliet Street in Schererville and throughout Dyer before 6 a.m. and businesses were dark along the U.S. 30 corridor in Dyer due to power outages there.

Those businesses were back in business when the lights came on just before 7 a.m.

On the Illinois side of the state line, some 69,000 ComEd customers in the South Suburbs remained without power as of 10:30 a.m., according to spokeswoman Kim Johnson, who warned that customers may be without power for several days.

At the worst of the outage, 473,000 ComEd customers were without power, she said. As of 10:30 a.m., 219,000 remained without power, including the 69,000 in the South Suburbs.

More than 500 crews were in the field working to restore power, Johnson said.

The following is a roundup of storm-related issues throughout the Region:

CHESTERTON: Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said Chesterton fared well Monday night. He reported only minor tree limbs down and no flooding. They had only one report of power lines down overnight. No roads were closed.

The Chesterton sewage treatment plant, known as the Fritz C Dietrich Environmental Control Facility, reported Tuesday morning that an unknown amount of overflow was released from 1:10 a.m. to 1:35 a.m. Preceding the overflow, the facility recorded 1.08 inches of rain in 15 minutes.

CROWN POINT: A Crown Point police dispatcher advised motorists to steer clear of the 700 block of Summit Street in front of Timothy Ball Elementary School. Storm water was pooling in that area and despite the presence of blockades, motorists continued to drive through with many getting stuck in the water, she said.

Flooding also shuttered Greenwood Avenue at Lake Street near the Lake County fairgrounds.

GRIFFITH: Griffith appeared to be the hardest hit of the local areas. Police dispatchers there said early Tuesday that the road closures were too numerous to list and advised motorists to avoid the northern end of town if at all possible.

At least three homes were severely damaged in the 1700 block of Lafayette Street, two with roofs ripped off and one with multiple walls caved in. A muffler and brake shop at the corner of Ridge Road and Arborgast Street also lost its roof and had a wall collapse.

HAMMOND: In Hammond, tree branches were down and the Woodmar section -- including portions of the Purdue University Calumet campus -- remained without power as did the business district near the Borman Expressway along Kennedy Avenue.

A police officer with the Purdue University Calumet department said as of 7:15 a.m., classes were expected to take place as usual with hopes of power being restored throughout campus.

At Clark Field, the high school football team conducted drills on the wet grass Tuesday morning.

Much of the fencing at the main ballfield at Riverside Park, home to the Hammond Chiefs and Seminoles, was also destroyed by the storms.

HIGHLAND: In Highland, Duluth Street was hit hard by flooding, with water filling the streets and backing up into basements. A carport smashed a car inside on the north end of town and neighbors were working to help clean up tree limbs and other debris that littered the roadways.

HOBART: A townhouse in the Villages of Lake George suffered heavy damage during the storm.

The storm leveled the garage, sending debris up and down Wisconsin Street. The eastern wall of the townhouse was ripped off, revealing a dining room and child's bedroom.

The residents were inside at the time. One woman suffered minor injuries.

At least 62 large trees are down in the city, as of 6 a.m., Public Works Director Wayne Snider said.

An area with mature trees between 11th and 14th streets south of Joan Martin Elementary School was particularly hard hit. In that area, State Street between 11th and 12th streets is closed with down power lines tangled in the fallen trees. Snider said he expects city street crews to be able to remove some of those trees beginning in the next two hours.

There were also many trees down in the Hillcrest area north of Cleveland Avenue, between U.S. 51 and County Line Road.

The city had not experienced any flooding, Snider said.

"Right now we're very fortunate in that sewer crews have been out since about 8:50 last night making sure all the catches are cleared," Snider said.

At the Target and Circuit City stores in Hobart, the entire parking lot was under water with water reaching the top of loading docks at both stores. Water was draining through the area of the Taco Bell restaurant onto U.S. 30. Despite the high waters, both stores remained open.

LANSING: In Lansing, the power remained out through much of the village. Police dispatchers said there were numerous tree limbs down in various areas of the village, but all roads remained passable.

The traffic signals on Torrence Avenue from 176th Place to Glenwood-Lansing Road remained out Tuesday morning but were back in operation by early afternoon.

MERRILLVILLE: Merrillville Town Councilman Shawn Pettit said he was out briefly Tuesday morning surveying storm damage around town.

He said Turkey Creek overflowed as it always does during summer storms. Pettit said areas around Turkey Creek and Brookwood have flooded out, along with some spots in the eastern section of town.

Merrillville Public Works director Bruce Spires said the town fared better than he expected.

"Turkey Creek went over its banks in some places, which usually means there will be a lot of flooding," Spires said. "We have closed two roads because of flooding. We had more issues because of wind damage with downed trees and branches. We've found the biggest reason for flooding is because sump pumps were not working due to the electricity being out."

One Merrillville resident who lives on Taft Street reported that she had been without power for 12 hours and that she had five feet of standing water in her house as of 10:30 a.m.

MICHIGAN CITY: A falling tree killed a man driving his car as a severe storm moved across northern Indiana, causing scattered damage and power outages.

Timothy Decker, 23, of Michigan City died of massive head trauma when a falling tree crushed his car about 9:30 p.m. Monday on a rural road, LaPorte County Deputy Coroner John Sullivan said. The large tree -- possibly felled by high winds or a lightning strike -- killed Decker instantly, Sullivan said.

MUNSTER: A water main break at Fran Lin Parkway and White Oak Avenue caused the pumping station there to shut down around 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to the town's water department. The failure did not require a boil order, but water pressure was extremely low.

The problem was resolved by 11:30 a.m.

The water main break contributed to more than just water issues Tuesday morning in Munster. Caffeine-craving commuters were left high and dry as the Calumet Avenue Dunkin' Donuts store was without power, and the Munster Donut shop across the street, which had power and doughnuts, was unable to serve coffee because of the lack of water.

Residents going back-and-forth in search of coffee added to snarled traffic on Calumet Avenue near Ridge Road during the morning commute.

Also in Munster, residents in the northeast section on Baring Avenue reported heavy flooding along the Little Calumet River.

In Munster, storm damage postponed the National Night Out Against Crime event scheduled for Tuesday night. The event is rescheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Munster Community Pool, 8837 Calumet Ave.

PORTAGE: Portage Police Sgt. Keith Hughes reported that either the police station or someplace close by was struck by lightning and several computers at the police department have been affected.

Boulder Avenue between Debra and Belmont streets and Willowcreek Road south of the Porter Portage hospital campus were closed due to flooding.

"We ran about 20 calls from 8 p.m. last night to 8 a.m. this morning," Portage Assistant Fire Chief Mike Bucy said. "They ranged from activated fire alarms to flooding problems. No serious call was reported in our area."

PORTER COUNTY: Porter County police Lt. Chris Eckert said police received reports throughout the county of trees across roadways, power lines down and flooding -- including the flooding of the Washington Highlands subdivision across from JC Penney in Valparaiso.

There were also plenty of homes and cars damaged by falling trees and limbs. And at 5 a.m. Tuesday on County Road 50 West, near County Road 700 North in Liberty Township, a motorist crashed into a large tree branch in the roadway. The motorist, Gregg Sacha, 52, of Valparaiso, told police he was unable to avoid the limb because it was dark out.

Porter County Sheriff's Police dispatchers reported numerous road closures due to high water at the following locations:

-- Governor Road between U.S. 6 and Lahonda Drive

-- Fox River Road between U.S. 6 and Lahonda Drive

-- 500 North between Sandalwood Drive and McCool Road

-- 800 South between Ind. 231 and County Line Road.

-- North Street between County Line Road and Hebron.

VALPARAISO: A storm came west to east through town, causing the most damage along Lincolnway, Jefferson Street and Chicago Street -- although there were reported problems from U.S. 30 to Harrison Boulevard.

"Ogden Gardens (on Harrison) took a lot of damage. Jimmy John's (on Lincolnway) lost their roof. Lightcap's (also on Lincolnway) appeared to have taken a lightning strike that blew out the front window," said Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes.

Grennes said power outages affected homes, stores and hotels in the city. He also reported scattered areas of flooding and road construction sites affected by orange barrels being blown around. There was also a report of the roadway caving in at U.S. 30 and Linwood. He wasn't aware of any injuries.

Utility Department workers spent the night clearing trees, but no major roads in Valparaiso were closed, according to the department. Some side streets may be closed, or partially blocked while crews clear the debris.

Park Department workers were out cleaning up limbs in Kirchoff Park and residents in that area were out surveying damage to their trees and homes.

WHITING: Dryers at the Coin Op laundry swirled with energy in one rare sign of life along 119th Street in the heart of Whiting Tuesday morning. A middle portion of 119th Street was quiet, with stop lights darkened during the storm being replaced with temporary stop signs.

Ginny Kusnir and Sue Cornelius sat outside of Cornelius' home in the 1800 block of Lake Street snacking on zucchini bread and discussing the weather.

"We went down to the basement when it got really bad," said Kusnir, who along with Cornelius lost power in their homes around midnight.

In addition to the bread, they discussed their other food sitting in their darkened houses.

"I haven't opened it yet," Cornelius said of her refrigerator. "I told the kids, 'Sorry, you're getting peanut butter and jelly for lunch.'"

Scattered branches, downed business signs and garbage cans littered streets as well.

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP: One Winfield Township resident reported a 200-pound gazebo and a 300-pound swing set were thrown by the strong winds. The swing set was thrown at least 30 feet and crashed into a neighbor's swimming pool. The gazebo was thrown 15 feet despite being bolted to an upper deck in the back yard.

Check back with nwi.com throughout the day for updates.

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