Residents, officials surveying damage in wake of Wednesday night storms

2013-06-13T20:53:00Z 2013-12-28T08:24:05Z Residents, officials surveying damage in wake of Wednesday night stormsLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

Dan Wolfe and his family returned to their Merrillville home Wednesday night after the storms had passed to find a tree had smashed his car.

"We drove up to our subdivision and it was all dark and the neighbors were all standing outside," Wolfe said.

He said his neighbors in the 3800 block of West 89th Court told him about the car. Thursday afternoon, the tree was still resting atop his 2003 Nissan Altima and a 10-foot portion of his home.

"It's hard to tell how much damage it caused to the house because it's still there," he said. "The car is a total loss, though."

The National Weather Service determined straight-line winds traveling as fast as 100 mph were to blame for damage in Northwest Indiana. According to the service's website, straight-line winds are sometimes confused with tornadoes because of similar wind speeds. Damage created by straight-line winds are usually in parallel rows.

"We are aware of pretty substantial wind damage that occurred in Winfield, Lakes of the Four Seasons and the Crown Point area," said Richard Castro, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill. "Based on the damage, it looks like those winds could have been over 70 mph."

Castro said when large trees are uprooted, it generally indicates winds of that strength or greater.

In Lake County, 109th Street west of the entrance to Lakes of the Four Seasons was closed through early Thursday because of multiple downed trees along the road. The road was reopened sometime before 8 a.m.

A roof blew off of a home in the 1100 block of Sunnyslope Drive in Lakes of the Four Seasons during the storm. Fire officials said no one was injured in the incident.

Thursday morning, the landscape in Winfield was littered with shingles, pieces of gutters, siding, leaves and limbs.

Siding was blown off of a home in the Doubletree Lake Estates subdivision. Business signs on 109th and Randolph Street were destroyed, including the sign for the Wiseway grocery store. A large Goodwill collection box behind the Winfield municipal complex was reduced to piles of lumber.

Steve Calgaro, owner of Stephano's Pizzeria, 10705 Randolph St., was at the business early Thursday morning checking on the damage.

Some of the shingles on the multiunit business strip blew off, causing minor water damage to the pizzeria. A portion of the overhang on the entrance to Calgaro's business was hanging from beneath the sign.

Calgaro expected the restaurant to be open for business Thursday.

In Schererville on Wednesday, resident Carol Ann Schrum sat at the window, overlooking her backyard as the skies rapidly darkened. Her eyes were glued to the Weather Channel until she noticed the winds picking up and trees swaying almost to the snapping point.

Large tree limbs swirled through the yard and were violently tossed by the wind. She said at the time she thought a tornado was churning before her eyes.

"I was glued to the window," Schrum said. "I know you're supposed to get away from windows and glass during these things, but I couldn't even move."

There was no damage to the house or pole barn, however piles of trees and limbs lay tangled in the backyard. Schrum's husband, Frederick Schrum, said it would take about a week to clean up.

Because the house is on a tall hill and has many trees in the area, the residents have experienced past property damage because of storms in their 11 years in the house.

Mike Higi, of Holley's Landscaping in Valparaiso, said he was up all night with colleagues driving through storm-damaged areas, assisting residents and business owners with removing downed trees and limbs.

"It's pretty bad out here especially," Higi said of the Lakes of the Four Seasons area. "The worst we've seen has been here, Crown Point, Merrillville and even some parts of Schererville."

Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub said storm water leaked through an air-conditioning vent on the roof of the county government center Wednesday night, causing some minor damage in the county surveyor's office. Lake County Surveyor George Van Til said waterlogged ceiling tiles in a conference room fell down, but there was no damage to the office's archive, which contains documents going back to the 1880s.

Lake County Highway Director Marcus Malczewski said work crews have cleared storm debris from county roads, which were all open by Thursday morning.

Officials in Crown Point said the storm hit the city's center between North and South streets the hardest, but Crown Point Public Works Department crew leader Bitz Mack said all sections of the city were affected, with downed trees and branches throughout.

No homes were believed damaged, Mack said.

Work to clear debris caused by the storms is expected to continue into the weekend and possibly into next week, Mack said.

The frame of the new Dawn Food Products facility under construction in the Ameriplex complex in Merrillville was destroyed in the storm. The lumber from the project could be seen in piles along the west side of Interstate 65 between the exits for 109th Street and U.S. 30.

Steven Lee, of Dawn Food Products, said the company was still assessing the damage.

"Obviously we remain very excited to open the new facility and are extremely thankful for the efforts of our partners to keep the project moving forward," he said.

Mark Wolf, of Tippmann Group, said a significant portion of the building was finished and some of the walls were up. He said crews will have to first clean up the damage and then figure out what they have to rebuild.

"We are happy that nobody was there when it happened," Wolf said. "We cleared the job site at 3 p.m. so no one would be there when the storm was coming."

Bruce Spires, Merrillville town administrator, said damage was worse in the southern area of town.

"North of 73rd Avenue is in good shape," Spires said. The farther north you go, you wouldn't even know there was a storm."

Spires said there were some reports of trees and power lines down, but that Merrillville overall fared better than some other areas of the region.

The Indiana Department of Transportation said fallen trees and limbs caused downed power lines on Ind. 2 that forced the closure of the road from I-65 to U.S. 231.

INDOT officials said that stretch of road could be closed for three days while crews work to remove the trees and repair the damage.

In Porter County, lightning strikes caused Valparaiso to lose power at four of its ground wells during the storm, said Utility Director Steve Poulos. A sewage pumping station also was down on Ind. 2 for a short time until a generator was brought in to provide power. Only two reports of flooded basements were received.

The utilities department had 13 employees on duty to answer emergencies during the storm. Poulos said they had to rely on radios for communication when phone and cellphone communications were lost.

The city got 1.85 inches of rain in a three-hour period, but Poulos said 1.58 inches of that came during a 48-minute period between 7:12 and 8 p.m.

In Lake Station, lightning was to blame for a small fire inside a house Wednesday night at 2199 Wayne St., said Lake Station Fire Chief Robert Janes.

The fire was contained to the utility room, he said.

Janes said the homeowner used an extinguisher to put out the small fire.

As of 6:30 p.m. Thursday, NIPSCO reported 3,323 customers were still without power in Northwest Indiana. Crown Point had the most amount of outages with 1,321 without power into Thursday evening. Other areas heavily impacted by the outages include Schererville, St. John, Merrillville, Lowell, Lake Village, Hebron and Cedar Lake.

At the peak of the storm, more than 44,000 customers were without power.

Kankakee Valley R.E.M.C. reported 2,800 customers without power in Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Starke and Pulaski counties at the peak of the storm. As of 6:30 p.m., power had been restored to all customers.

ComEd reported 73,000 customers without power at the peak of the storm. As of 6:30 p.m., 3,069 customers remained without power. About 604 of the customers were from the far south suburbs.

Times staff writers Bill Dolan, Phil Wieland, Deborah Laverty, Elvia Malagon, Anna Ortiz and Susan Erler contributed to this report.

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