KOKOMO, Ind. — It’s no joke when Brooke Troutman says she survived her first week of college.
A freshman at Indiana University Kokomo, she spent an agonizing few minutes –that felt like an eternity — crouched on her bathroom floor, as a tornado ripped the roof off the second floor apartment she had moved into three days earlier.
“The building was starting to shake, I heard glass shattering and breaking, it was so scary,” she said. “I thought I was going to fall through the floor. I didn’t have time to get downstairs, and I just made it into the bathroom. I could hear all of this noise, and I was screaming and crying on the phone with my mom, and she was praying for God to protect me.”
When the noise stopped, she saw light coming in under the bathroom door, and thought the apartment door blew open. She emerged from the bathroom, and “I was looking up at the sky, and rain was blowing down into our apartment, because the roof blew off.”
The only section of roof left covered the bathroom where she had taken shelter.
“I really do believe God had his hand over me to protect me, because I didn’t even get a scratch,” she said.
Troutman was just one of the IU Kokomo students, faculty, and staff who suffered losses to their homes during the three tornados that tore through the Kokomo area, from about 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 24. At least five students lost their apartments, and most of their belongings, at Park Place Apartments, where Brooke lived with her sister, Bailey. Both are members of the campus golf team.
In addition, many faculty and staff members reported being impacted by the storm, with power outages that lasted for days, tree limbs and power lines down, up to complete loss of homes.
Citywide, 81 homes were destroyed, and 173 sustained major damage.
Tammy Ledbetter, assistant professor of nursing, and her family plan to rebuild after losing their rural Howard County home, which they had lived in for more than 30 years.
She, her husband, and her son were all home when the tornados hit. They were monitoring the storm’s progress on television when the electricity went out.
“All of a sudden, it got deadly still,” she said. “I decided I was going to shelter.” She took cover in a bathroom, with her body weight against the door to keep it closed, and prayed as the storm passed over them.
“I was so worried about my husband and son,” she said. “I was praying so hard. I heard the wind and I heard everything crashing and the glass breaking.”
Her family emerged nearly unscathed — her husband suffered a bruise where a board hit him as he ran down from the second floor, just before the roof was torn off.
She is grateful for the help of IU Kokomo faculty, staff, and students, who spent two days helping them pack up the house to move their belongings into storage until they can rebuild. They’re currently staying with her daughter, and are preparing for a move to a temporary apartment.
“As always, I am very grateful and very impressed with the caring people who work at IU Kokomo, and the people who live in Kokomo,” Ledbetter said. “We and our neighbors had more than enough people to help us. Someone came and brought us a sack of sandwiches one day. We had more food than we could use some of those days, even after all of our helpers were fed. The generosity of the people of Kokomo is just amazing.”
While Brooke Troutman rode out the storm home alone, her sister Bailey, an IU Kokomo junior, was in the basement under Havens Auditorium, where her class was evacuated when the tornado warnings sounded. They realized the magnitude of the storm from social media.
“We didn’t know for sure what was happening outside, but we could tell it was bad when we read about the Starbucks being destroyed,” she said, noting she was terrified for her younger sister. “I felt terrible because I knew she was by herself, and it was her first week here.”
Brooke walked out of the apartment with her backpack of textbooks and her laptop. Bailey’s books and laptop were lost to water damage, but they are thankful to Athletic Director Greg Cooper, and his wife Megan Cooper, an academic advisor, who helped them pack up everything from the apartment and move it to Cougar Gym. They sorted through what they could save and what was lost in the gym.
They are also grateful to members of the IU Kokomo men’s basketball team, who provided muscle to move their belongings from the apartment quickly, and who brought a truck to help. They moved into a new apartment Sunday.
“There’s no way we could repay the Coopers and the team for all they did for us,” Bailey said. “We are now their biggest fans. You could see on their eyes how heartbroken they were for us. We wouldn’t have half of what we do without them. We can’t thank them enough.”
Brooke echoed her sister’s sentiments.
“I am so happy to be a student here,” Brooke said. “It feels like a real family. It’s nice to know people care about you. You don’t realize how blessed you are until something happens. Then you realize what a community you are.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.