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Selma-Winchester tornado: At least 155 mph gusts; 38 hurt, 130 homes damaged

Devastating tornado damage throughout the state

(WISH) — Thursday night’s tornado that began in Selma, traveled through Winchester and ended near Union City had gusts from 155 to 165 mph, ranking it as a severe tornado, the National Weather Service said Friday afternoon.

Randolph County and Winchester had no deaths in Thursday night’s tornadoes, but 38 people were hurt, the sheriff’s department said Friday morning. Twelve of the 38 people were taken to hospitals, and three were last known to be in critical condition. The injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

Earlier reports from local Randolph County authorities and the state police had said at least three people died, but the Indiana State Police superintendent countered those reports in a news conference just after midnight Thursday.

The Selma-Winchester tornado ranked as an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which the weather services uses to assess tornadoes. The last EF-3 to hit Randolph County was in March 10, 1986.

The weather service late Friday afternoon said the Winchester tornado measured 700 yards at its widest. The twister touched down at 7:37 p.m. in Selma, traveled more than 25 miles, and ended near Indiana’s border with Ohio, about 2 miles south-southwest of Union City.

Earlier in the day in a separate storm front, a tornado hit Jefferson County in southern Indiana. The National Weather Service had issued two separate tornado watches in advance of the storms.

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security said Thursday a nursing home in Winchester was evacuated after losing power, and several businesses had “serious” damage. Winchester Mayor Bob McCoy said 130 homes were damaged.

The Republican mayor in his second term told The Associated Press that he and his wife hid in a closet when the twister hit. “I’ve never heard that sound before; I don’t want to hear it again,” McCoy said.

Yorktown Fire Department says its structural collapse team rescued two people trapped in tornado debris in a home’s bedroom closet. The home on East Base Road was east of where the tornado destroyed the Taco Bell and damaged other businesses in Winchester. One of the two people in the home was taken to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

As of 5:20 p.m. Friday, reported 1,377 customers without power in Randolph County. Indiana Michigan Power utility at one point Thursday night reported about half of Randolph County was without power.

Indiana Michigan reported Friday that 400 line workers and others were working to restore power. As of 5:30 p.m. Friday, power had been restored to more than 85% of its customers who lost power.

The utility hoped to have power restored for most customers by 10 p.m. Friday. “However, there are a handful of customers that may experience a longer outage due to the extensive damage on the transmission line along Indiana 32. We are working as quickly as possible to get power restored in that area,” Indiana Michigan said in a news release issued Friday afternoon.

Indiana Michigan also reported Friday afternoon that it had addressed 125 broken or damaged utility poles in both Randolph and Delaware counties.

Indiana State Police said early Friday morning that damaged homes in Winchester would be checked. Indiana Task Force 1, a search and rescue team, reported it left before dawn Friday for Randolph County.

Near the destroyed Taco Bell, Ascension St. Vincent Randolph reported Thursday night that it remained open while its leaders accessed whether the hospital was damaged.

A shopping center near the Taco Bell also suffered severe damage.

A shopping center, shown March 15, 2024, received damage from a Thursday night tornado in Winchester, Indiana. (WISH Photo/Katie Cox)

Winchester Community High School and Willard Elementary School were opened to help people who need emergency assistance and shelter.

Civilian volunteers can go to the White River Volunteer Fire Department at 1023 N. Old U.S. 27 in northern Winchester.

At 4:35 p.m. Friday, Randolph County was under a travel warning. According to Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the warning means people were asked to refrain from all travel; comply with necessary emergency measures; cooperate with public officials and disaster services forces in executing emergency operations plans; and obey and comply with the lawful directions of properly identified officers.

Winchester is a city of 4,800 residents that’s about a 90-minute drive northeast of downtown Indianapolis.

Damage, injuries in Selma

The tornado that hit Winchester started in Selma, about a 25-minute drive west of Winchester. About 740 residents live in the town, which is about a 70-minute drive northeast of downtown Indianapolis.

The Delaware County Emergency Management Agency reported Thursday night that about half of Selma’s structures were damaged, and other damage was reported in the surrounding area. One person in Selma was taken to a hospital.

Wapahani High School and Selma Elementary School opened to provide shelter and assistance.

Randy Ried, fire chief of Liberty Township Fire Department in Delaware County, told News 8’s Andrew Chernoff in Selma that injuries were minor. However, damage was severe, Ried said.

As of 5:20 p.m. Friday, reported 178 customers in Delaware County without power. More than 850 had lost power after the tornado.

Indiana Michigan said in a news release issued Friday afternoon, “Significant storm damage in Selma included a major transmission line along Indiana 32 that is responsible for an extended outage. Numerous crews are working to replace poles and wires there.”

At 4:35 p.m. Friday, Delaware County was under a travel advisory. According to Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the advisory means that routine travel or activities may be restricted in areas because of a hazardous situation, and people should use caution or avoid those areas.

Jefferson County tornado

Indiana’s first tornado on Thursday hit Jefferson County, located on the Ohio River in southern Indiana. The National Weather Service says that tornado had gusts up to 115 mph.

The tornado hit the Sandy Beach Campground, which sits along the Ohio River about 10 miles east of the town of Hanover. The National Weather Service determined that tornado from 1 mile of Hanover and ended 1.5 miles northeast of Carrollton, Kentucky in Switzerland County, Indiana, according to Storm Track 8’s Steven Diana. The twister traveled more than 17 miles. The twister’s maximum width was 500 yards.

Matt True, director of Jefferson County Emergency Management, told News 8 that two people received minor injuries. The tornado damaged 97 structures, including 29 homes. Most of the damage was in and around the town of Hanover, and near the town of Brooksburg.

Jefferson County Sheriff Ben Flint told The Associated Press that several uninhabited campers along the river were destroyed.

Thursday’s storm fronts that hit Indiana also left damage and injuries in Ohio and Kentucky. At least three people died in Ohio. Tornadoes also happened Thursday in Illinois and Missouri.

Reporting damage

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said late Thursday night on social media, “Janet & I send our deepest condolences & prayers to the loved ones of those impacted by tonight’s storms & the Hoosiers in the path of destruction. The people of Winchester are resilient & should know the state will walk alongside & support them as we pick up the pieces & rebuild.”

Indiana Department of Homeland Security says residents of Delaware, Randolph and Jefferson counties have been asked to contact Indiana 211 to report damage from Thursday’s severe storms.

Other counties should reach out to their local emergency manager.

Agricultural damage should be reported to the Purdue Extension.