(TNS) – You can plan for tornadoes and disasters, but until it strikes, you don’t know how you’ll react, Warrick County Sheriff Brett Kruse said.
But when a tornado destroyed parts of Warrick County in 2005, it was the community that came together.
Kruse, then chief deputy, remembered being awoken by his son, a deputy sheriff.
“You have to get down here,” his son told him.
As he drove through Warrick County, it was chaos.
“Everything was a blur. … The total devastation — it was just unbelievable,” he said.
The department had 37 deputies and sheriffs on duty from the tornado’s touchdown through the days of cleanup that followed.
“It was pretty overwhelming. Our entire department worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off — no exceptions — except one who was on vacation.”
It wasn’t just public safety officials pooling together, it was the community.
“It’s a community and everybody helps everybody out. And it was no different. … I mean who wants to wait around for somebody to clean your yard up? Nobody does,” he said.
Southwestern Indiana banded together and said: “We’re not waiting on the government to help us,” he said.
Former Vanderburgh County Sheriff Eric Williams remembers it like Kruse — everyone came together.
“I think Vanderburgh County and our public safety and our community — we showed people how to do it on our own,” Williams said.
Before the tornado struck, Williams, then chief deputy, had been at a wedding reception for another deputy.
He knew the weather was going to be bad while lying in bed watching TV with his wife.
“I had even started to get ready to go in. I was kind of keyed up; couldn’t sleep. I remember getting a call — something to the effect of, ‘We’re getting a report of a tornado at Ellis Park … But basically we didn’t know how much damage or if there were any damage, but we’ve got cars en route,'” he said.
Within minutes, he had his uniform on and was out the door.
“I do remember driving in and the lightning flashing and noticing, in what would be in Warrick County, what was still the funnel cloud. It didn’t really register what I was really seeing,” he said.
“Until I got there and started walking around, I had no comprehension of the scope, the amount of damage, and the amount of tragedy we were getting ready to deal with over the next several days.”
The scene was worse than he could’ve imagined — red and blue lights lighting up the dark night, flipped trailers, emergency personnel using a house door as an impromptu gurney.
“I can see it real vividly, walking in, and I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it. There were some really tragic visions and things that you saw that you shouldn’t have to see,” he said.
But it was the sounds that stick in his mind the most.
“You could hear people screaming, yelling for help, or screaming because they couldn’t find somebody. It was chaotic,” he said.
From that night on through the following days, the public safety and the community came together to help.
“You don’t wait around for … the state or the feds or whoever (to come help you). You dig in and you put a program in place and you start working it,” he said.
Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves said the community showed how caring and compassionate it really was 10 years ago.
“I think what the positive was, was teamwork — everyone left their egos at the door and did their job. The worst times of our lives is when we find out we’re at our best. This community shined,” Groves said. “It was the proudest day of my life to say I live in Evansville, Indiana.”
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