On Wednesday, August 24, 2016 the City of Kokomo again experienced extensive damage and devastation as tornadoes touched down in our community. Thankfully there was no loss of life or serious injuries. However, the damage to our property and landscape was devastating. Homes were destroyed and businesses severely impacted. Hundreds of trees, many of which were more than a century old, were ripped from the ground.
It was less than three short years ago that our community had to deal with a very similar situation. This recent tornado followed an almost identical path through town as the November 2013 tornado. It destroyed parts of the Cedar Crest neighborhood and impacted commercial areas and apartment complexes. For some, the scars and wounds from 2013 were ripped open again.
We are very thankful because it could have been much worse. The tornado roared through Kokomo at a time when the streets were filled with thousands of drivers and children ready to leave school. Fortunately, everyone reacted swiftly and appropriately to the warnings, taking shelter and making sure those in their charge were safe.
Mere moments later, 70 percent of Howard County was left without power, streets were blocked with trees and debris, and some residents were left wondering “Why us again?” Despite the destruction and damage, it did not destroy our community’s spirit. Our residents knew exactly what to do – stand up, start helping our neighbors and begin rebuilding.
The first calls with offers of assistance I received were from Senator Joe Donnelly and Governor Mike Pence. Mayors and town managers from across the state called next. Each asked what they could do to help. All offered thoughts and prayers. All were committed to doing whatever they could to help their fellow Hoosiers. Kokomo residents were quickly reminded once again that we were not alone.
I want to personally thank the state agencies, departments, and their respective employees who provided assistance at numerous levels and exceeded expectations.
Also, our colleagues at the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns (IACT) responded swiftly. In all, more than 40 mayors from cities around the state personally reached out to provide assistance to our community. The offer of help from these communities became our hope as we started forward.
Help came in the form of trucks and equipment, along with the manpower to operate it. Help came in the form of extra police officers to help secure affected areas. Help came in the form of industrial generators so our Waste Water facility could be up and running without pause.
The importance of this professional help from other cities cannot be overstated. Our local teams of employees from our Police, Fire, Street, Parks, Waste Water, and Traffic Departments have been working countless hours. The trained crews and equipment from other communities provided much needed assistance, relief, and moral support. We could not have done it alone. We owe so many a debt, one we hope you never experience and that we never have the opportunity to repay.
Our help didn’t just come from government entities – it came from the people. Just like three years ago, thousands of volunteers within our community and throughout the state and Midwest reached out to offer assistance to our residents. Cleanup began almost immediately as streets were cleared, debris was piled up and gradually power was restored.
Our city has been forever touched by these thousands of volunteers from across the Midwest who have extended their services and offered help in our time of need. Volunteers showing up to assist, having traveled from places like Illinois and Kentucky, with no expectation other than to help a neighbor in need. Watching, and working alongside of, the mass of volunteers from every walk of life was awe inspiring. Witnessing it firsthand was a deeply humbling and emotional experience.
Those who couldn’t help with a chainsaw or a rake, helped with financial donations. The money raised in a short amount of time will go a long way in the recovery process. The generosity is greatly appreciated.
Kokomo, like it did in 2013, will rebuild and recover from the devastation left by Mother Nature. Our city is resilient beyond belief and will not be broken by a tornado. Like my friend and local community activist Kevin Sprinkle tweeted: “Kokomo 2, tornadoes 0.”
On behalf of the citizens of Kokomo, we wish to thank everyone who offered and provided help. Your efforts are forever appreciated and have not gone unnoticed.