By Carson Gerber and Misty Knisely Pharos-Tribune
PERU — PERU — Destructive winds blasting through Peru at more than 80 miles an hour Wednesday afternoon left wide-spread damage in its path, including flipped cars, crumbled houses, uprooted trees and downed power lines that knocked out electricity to around 60 percent of the city.
Despite the devastation left in the storm’s wake, no injuries were reported, according to the Peru Police Department.
“You have to thank God for that,” said Mayor Jim Walker. “We’re very thankful for that.”
Fallen tree limbs littered every street after the storm, but the city’s west side experienced the worst damage. On West Second Street, trees smashed through houses and winds tore off entire roofs and decimated a large backyard garage.
Businesses on West Main Street also sustained massive damage, including Aldi, Arby’s and Wendy’s. The storm turned the drive-in area at B&K into rubble, and smashed cars and trucks into a pile at the Kroger parking lot.
Massive trees over 100 years old stretched across parts of Maconaquah Park on the city’s south side. Down the road at a mobile-home area off of Ind. 19, a storage trailer lay in pieces after winds blew it over 15 feet away from its foundation.
“For as serious as it could have been, we’re thankful no one got hurt,” said Peru Police Chief Jonie Kennedy.
Many witnesses in Peru said they saw a tornado touch down, but officials at the National Weather Service have yet to determine whether one actually hit the area.
Evan Bentley, a meteorologist with the NWS’s north Indiana office, said a team will survey the area this morning to determine if the damage was actually caused by a tornado.
“We have to be very careful about saying whether something was a tornado,” he said. “We really weren’t expecting tornados in this weather environment. That’s why we didn’t issue any warnings. But we’re not ruling it out as a possibility.”
For Derrick Stapleton, watching the storm descend on his Peru neighborhood was just like the countless storms he’s seen play out on TV.
“Man, it’s just like on TV,” he said. “I watched it roll down to the ground, just like they say it happens.”
When the skies over Peru went dark, Stapleton said it was only minutes before “it was right on top of us.”
“At first I thought it was a train running out behind the house.”
But when he realized it was the storm barreling down instead, he decided to stop watching and head for the protection of his home’s interior.
“I said, ‘It’s gonna drop down right on Aldi’s,’” he said of the grocery store that neighbors his North Kelly Avenue home. “It seems I was right.”
The store’s parking lot was littered with debris and damaged cars, including an overturned truck pinned next to a car. One vehicle was missing a tire.
The store itself fared only slightly better — its entire facade and signage gone.
A few doors down on Main Street, it was a much different story for Arby’s. The bricks covering the restaurant’s rear exterior wall were piled in the drive-thru lane.
Employees huddled out front to fill the arriving store manager in on what happened.
Connie Garrett was working the register when she noticed a storm rolling in.
“The clouds looked funky and I was telling the drive-thru girl about it when the wind started picking up,” she said. “It just got crazy from there.”
The glass door on the north side of the building burst, covering the dining area in glass and other debris.
All employees and customers were able to ride out the storm safely, Garrett said.
As employees surveyed the damage inside the restaurant, a firefighter asked them to leave because the building was being declared condemned and the area secured. There was fear, the firefighter said, the rear wall was going to buckle and cause the building to collapse.
Store manager Mike Blair said the restaurant will likely be closed for some time to recover from the damage.
“There was no warning,” he said. “It all happened so quickly.”
A few more doors down Main Street, the owner of the west-end B&K at Main Street and Park Road told a similar tale. Marianne Hann, of Peru, said her 15-year-old son was manning the store when the storm hit.
“We were having dinner across town when he called,” she said. “He asked if we were OK, and I said, ‘Yes, why?’ ‘Because the awning and the roof just blew off the B&K.”
Despite the horrible circumstances, Hann was able to laugh at the way he broke the news to her.
“He was just so calm,” she said.
But, she continued, everyone else at the restaurant was hysterical. They huddled in the bathroom for protection, but that was only until the roof was ripped off, leaving the rain to pour down on them.
They wanted to move to a vehicle, but Hann’s son had the wherewithal to know that was a bad idea and had everyone move to another building, she said.
Good thing, Hann said, pointing to the Jeep in the parking lot smashed by the drive-up restaurant’s large awning. Not a single piece of glass in the SUV was left intact. The restaurant itself also appeared a total loss.
“It’s just stuff,” said Hann, who’s owned the restaurant for roughly a decade. “I can’t imagine if someone had gotten hurt. It’s just stuff.”
And now the cleanup begins.
Peru officials met this morning to create an action plan for clearing out fallen trees and other debris, but Peru Mayor Jim Walker said it will likely be weeks before the city is totally spruced up.
“It’s going to be a matter of rebuilding,” he said.
Police Chief Kennedy said a slew of law enforcement agencies, fire departments and groups like the Red Cross helped maintain the destruction directly after the storm hit, and thanked the departments for their work and fast response.
“I think we’re blessed we didn’t have any substantial damage,” she said. “I thank God everyone’s safe.”
Kennedy said people reporting damage to the police department should use the call of service number 1308146.