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 Free Firewood! Storm Downs Trees, Power Lines in K-town

June 4, 2008 - There were teams from the National Weather Service in Knightstown over the weekend. They decided Knightstown got hit by straight-line winds, not a tornado.

Most residents agreed that waylaid might be a more appropriate word. Although the community was warned, few expected such a violent ambush by Mother Nature.

The storm hit Knightstown at approximately 10:53 p.m. Friday night, blowing through the town at around 50 mph and leveling trees on nearly every street. Shortly after 11 p.m., the storm that blasted through Knightstown eventually, according to an unconfirmed report from a law enforcement officer, formed a tornado that touched down six miles east of Lewisville.

(A National Weather Service meterorologist told The Banner on Tuesday that the NWS believes the area was only hit by straight-line winds. -- Ed.)

By 11 p.m. more than 90 percent of the Knightstown community was without power.

 

Knightstown’s dispatch was warned at approximately 10:45 p.m. that a severe storm was heading toward the town. Chief of Police Danny Baker was in the squad car heading west on U.S.Hwy. 40 shortly before the storm hit. He instructed patrol officer Derek Hall to head north on S.R. 109. They would be looking for signs of an incoming tornado so they could warn the town. When the winds hit, Baker's cruiser was stopped by the powerful blow. Hall's patrol car was pushed into a resident's yard.

Larry Rumple had worked an eight-hour shift for the Knightstown Electric Department that day and was relaxing at home. But, when he saw the warnings of inclement weather on the horizon, he knew there would be no going to bed that night.

"We were called out shortly after that first wave, and I knew we were in trouble because the winds were so powerful," Rumple said.

At 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, 63 hours after the storm hit, Rumple had slept just over eight hours and worked roughly 54. At that point, the majority of the 1,800 residents serviced by Knightstown Utilities had their power restored.

Electric department employees Wayne Terry, Rick Hall and Tim Apollos had already exceeded a 40-hour work week by noon Monday after a long weekend. Like everyone else in town, their weekend plans changed dramatically Friday night.

"We had gone out to dinner that evening and had talked about a planned (motorcycle) ride Saturday," Hall said. "When we got back home I knew I was going to be in for a long night."

Terry had planned on going four-wheel racing Saturday. Instead, he had put in 40 hours of work over the weekend, getting little sleep and usually grabbing a quick meal on the side of the road.

"It's been a pretty rough weekend," Terry said, "but most of the people we've run into have been really grateful to get their power back on."

After following up their regular shift Friday by pulling an all-nighter into Saturday evening, the town workers were fed a meal by Knightstown American Legion Post 152. At that point, most had already worked 26 of the previous 30 hours, and the initial job of restoring power to the town was about 60 percent completed.

Street department employee Doyle Richmond had been assisting the electric department. His home had been damaged by the storm and his truck was sitting under a tree Monday afternoon.

"I really haven't had a chance to see how bad the damage is," Richmond said. "I haven't really been home and just haven't had time to take a look yet."

The lowest number of hours worked by any electric department employee since the storm hit had already exceeded 40 by Monday morning.

 

With much damage throughout the community from the first storm, workers' efforts to begin their cleanup and repairs were hampered by a second storm that blasted through town at roughly 11:10 p.m. That second wave brought more trees down and forced the electric department to shut down power to the entire community because hot wires were on the ground on nearly every street.

"That second wave of storms caused a lot of problems because we already had sightseers driving all over the place," Chief Baker said. On the job himself from 5 a.m. Friday until 6:30 p.m. Saturday, minus a one-hour nap, Baker sent his officers to the streets for security purposes.

Officers Derek Hall, Carey Spivey and Shawn Mullins all put in 15-hour shifts immediately after the storm. Reserve Adrian Darling was also called out, and Mullins’ girlfriend, Stephanie Loucks, came in to help man the telephones.

"When the power went off I knew we were in a little bit of trouble," said Baker, who had ordered the dispatcher to set off the storm warning siren when his car was stopped by a head-on wind and officer Hall's cruiser was blown into a yard. "(Dispatcher) Lisa Robertson set off the alarm and then the power went off and communications were down. Then the storm alarm quit working after one or two blasts. But the town responded quickly and got everything back online with the generators in just a few minutes. I was very impressed with those guys."

Winds exceeding 60 mph brought down trees, which in turn fell onto power lines and streets, causing widespread damage and making it nearly impossible to travel from one part of town to another.

Knightstown had 1,800 customers without power, and Duke Energy reported a similar number in other areas of the county. Henry REMC reported more than 1,200 customers sitting in the dark.

Town Works Manager Mel Matlock, who managed to get some sleep over the weekend purely by accident, said at 11 p.m. Friday, 90 percent of the town's customers were in the dark. However, by 3:30 p.m. Saturday, about 60 percent of the power had been restored in Knightstown.

 

The electric department had some help in its efforts. Water department employees Robbie Matlock and Randy Anderson were assisting wherever they could, local resident Rodney Lingenfelter was on the job, and Spiceland Electric Department employees Joe McIntosh and Jeff Lane put in long weekend hours.

The town employees heaped praise upon members of the Knightstown-Wayne Twp. Volunteer Fire Department for their efforts to help secure areas, remove trees and do, basically, whatever was asked of them.

Saturday afternoon residents could be seen throughout the community cleaning up debris from their yards or removing trees from their homes. Neighbors were helping each other and some people were working their way around town to see who might need some assistance.

"The guys have worked hard for a lot of hours," Matlock said. "I think to be where we are right now, under the circumstances, they've done a pretty good job. There have also been a lot of people who aren't town employees who've done more than their share, and that's something we're grateful for."

Most of the community, without electricity Friday night and early Saturday morning, slept for lack of anything else to do. Officer Hall, working a 15-hour shift, saw firsthand the efforts of town employees and volunteers.

"Those guys just hammered at it all night long," Hall said. "The town workers and the volunteer firefighters were something else. It was amazing how much they got done and how they just kept at it all weekend."

No injuries have been reported as a result of the storm.

 

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