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Georgetown smacked by high winds

A savage storm that may have included a tornado ripped through Georgetown and its surrounding areas late Thursday, snapping and uprooting thousands of trees, dismantling buildings and leaving numerous residents without electricity as late as Friday afternoon.
Georgetown Town Manager Ken Griffin said the worst part of the storm came through the area about 8:40 p.m. and cut a swath through the center of town.
Georgetown Twp. Volunteer Fire Department assistant chief David Page said the storm seemed to come in from the west and did the most damage on Rita Lane in Harrison County and Dalby and Wolfe Cemetery roads in western Floyd County, before heading down S.R. 64 and veering east at Baylor Wissman Road.
‘It pretty much came across from Harrison County,’ Page said. ‘It went down and followed S.R. 64.’
Numerous homes in the Edwardsville area off S.R. 62, south of Interstate 64, also sustained damage and trees were uprooted and sheared off close to the road.
Griffin said as of Friday afternoon no injuries were reported due to the storm itself, although he said he did hear of a minor injury to a person who was working to clear trees in town.
‘We’ve been very fortunate,’ he said.
The town has been using the Red Cross Headquarters on S.R. 64 as a command center under the direction of Floyd County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Col. Frank Loop, a Georgetown resident, and Georgetown Chief Marshal Larry Potts, Griffin said.
‘We will be there until the town is put back together,’ Griffin said.
Electrical service to town residents was cut off about 8:40 p.m. Thursday, Griffin said, adding that about 85 percent of residents are served by Cinergy, while the remainder have Harrison REMC. As of Friday afternoon, Harrison REMC had restored power to its customers in the area, while Cinergy was still working to replace service. Griffin said Cinergy officials indicated it could be as long as 48 hours before all residents have power back.
S.R. 64 was closed from about 9:15 p.m. Thursday for about two hours due to the large number of trees that were down in its path. Griffin said the Indiana State Police elected to close the road again about 2 p.m. Friday to allow utility crews to work along S.R. 64.
‘We’ve just got literally thousands of trees down,’ he said.
Potts said Friday there had not been a determination as to whether the destruction was the work of a tornado or very strong straight-line winds. He added that the National Weather Service sent officials to check into the matter and he expected a ruling on the official classification of the storm soon.
Potts said several residents reported seeing a funnel cloud, but it has not been officially confirmed that the funnel was on the ground. If it is confirmed that the funnel did touch down, the event will be labeled a tornado.
Potts said the main roads around town have been cleared of trees and debris and the secondary roads will be passable very soon. As many as 24 homes and businesses were reported damaged by the storm, he said.
‘Our greatest problem was blockage of roadways and power lines being intertwined with trees that were down,’ he said.
All around town, residents, utility workers and business owners worked to clear the trees and debris Friday morning. Ron Glotzbach was looking at the remains of a frame for a building he was having built on S.R. 64. He had been working to put the building up for more than two weeks.
‘There’s 8,000 square foot of building on the ground,’ he said.
Another finished building on Glotzbach’s property also sustained wind damage and was pelted with roofing material from another building to the southwest.
Ron Cook, owner of Cook’s Marine stood in front of his business, also located along S.R. 64, Friday morning, with pieces of the roof from the back of the building scattered along the front lot and across S.R. 64. The storm peeled the roof off a portion of the block building and deposited it on the ground below. A woman there, who declined to give her name, said she was at the building during the storm the night before and saw a funnel cloud about 100 yards away.
‘It was wild,’ she said, pointing to nearby Canal Lane. ‘Up there, it looks like a battlefield.’
Julie Hart, who with her husband, Mike, lives in the center of town said she heard and saw the storm come through.
‘We were in the cellar and I could hear the wind roaring,’ Hart said. ‘I could hear the siren. The sky turned green and you knew it was going to be bad. It sounded like a car revving its engine.’
The destruction was felt on the western and eastern sides of town as well, including on Gun Club Road, just across the Harrison County line, where numerous large cedar trees were snapped off, and at the Southard farm, where two old barns were decimated, including one round structure considered a local landmark.
Virginia Morman, whose parents own the farm, said one of the barns was more than 60 years old and debris from the round barn went onto nearby houses and carried several hundred yards into nearby fields.
Kevin Root, who lives on Greenville-Georgetown Road about four miles outside Georgetown, said strong winds blew the screen door off his home just before 9 p.m. and the storm was so powerful it damaged several trees on his property.
‘The tops of the trees were twisted off,’ Root said. ‘The wind had the grass laid down flat.’
Don Zalewa, who lives off S.R. 64 on the western edge of town, described the funnel cloud he saw: ‘It just kind of skimmed across the ground. It would have been a lot worse if it had set right on the ground.’
On S.R. 62, near Edwardsville, two trees were uprooted and crashed into the home of Ellen Steiner, near the S.R. 11 intersection. Steiner was out of town at the time of the storm, but her father, Bob Murphy, who owns the house and has lived next door since 1956, said the wind blew trees down all over the property and the tree that hit his daughter’s house struck with such force that it shot a window air conditioner across the room inside.
‘The little trees that didn’t uproot were touching the ground,’ Murphy said. ‘We’ve never seen anything like this.’
Griffin said he wanted to let residents know that if trees are down on private property, the town cannot cut them down unless they are blocking a town roadway.
‘It’s got to be done by the homeowner or private contractor,’ he said.
Griffin also urged residents to be cautious of home improvement scams and bogus contractors as they rebuild, because there had already been reports of questionable practices regarding tree trimming and other repairs.
(Information for this story was also gathered by Wade Bell.)