Buildings lay in rubble.
Cars tossed on their side.
Debris everywhere you stepped.
The sidewalks were full of people walking with their mouths gaped open at the destruction all around them. People used their hands to ward off the sun in hopes of spotting the helicopter heard buzzing overhead.
It was like being in another country. It certainly didn't look like the small Indiana town I have visited so many times.
As an editor, I'm normally chained to my desk. My days of chasing after a story are far behind me. I leave that to the young, ambitious reporters these days. Been there, done that.
But on Wednesday, a series of events landed me in Miami County with our staff photographer, covering what was possibly a tornado. At the time, they were attributing the damage around Peru to straight-line winds. They've since then declared it an EF1 tornado.
Call it what you will, it was like nothing I've ever seen. We had just come from Walton, where we found countless downed trees — victims of an earlier storm there. We thought that was a crazy sight to see. I've seen storms take out limbs and rough up some sheds, but it seemed like every turned corner revealed a new deciduous victim.
But as I found out a short time later, I hadn't seen anything yet. It was nothing compared to what we found in Peru.
With roads closed and traffic backed up everywhere, we weren't even sure we would make it to Peru. We finally ditched the truck just off Main Street and decided to hoof it. The first thing we saw was a truck overturned and pinned next to a car. It looked as if the truck was pushed by a tree limb because it was pinned up under it. The problem was there was no tree nearby.
The thought of a tree limb that big being blown that far at a speed fast enough to overturn a truck scared me. I've never been on the receiving end of Mother Nature's wrath, and the scene before me made me thankful for it.
If we didn't know we were in the Aldi's parking lot from memory, there wouldn't have been anything to tell us we were. The store's signage and facade were gone. Ripped away with such force, its pieces littered other stores' parking lots. Later, as we made our way up Main Street, we found a piece several blocks away. We also saw kids carrying away pieces of signs they found on the ground.
We stopped to talk to employees gathered outside Arby's, where a brick wall hung precariously from the building. Clearly, it was going to fall anytime and would easily take much of the rest of the restaurant down with it.
It was surreal to walk through the restaurant's dining area to see it covered in glass and tree limbs. Knowing there were customers sitting in the glass-covered booths when the storm hit, it was scary to think how much different all this could have turned out.
If this was the destruction left in an EF1 tornado's path, I can't imagine what it's like for places like Moore, Okla., that have experienced the likes of an EF5.
Seeing the damage first-hand made real for me the destruction and fallout of the storms we so often see play out on the news.
Reality is scary.
Misty Knisely, managing editor, can be reached at 574-732-5155 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.