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Storm damages Orange County Courthouse, surrounding Paoli

The Orange County Courthouse in downtown Paoli, Indiana, is shown Aug. 7, 2023, after a storm damaged the building. (WISH Photo)

PAOLI, Ind. (WISH) — A powerful storm came through downtown Paoli about 12:30 a.m. Monday, and, on Monday afternoon, the cleanup was well underway and the power was slowly being restored.

One visible scar is the damage to the Orange County Courthouse in the town of 3,600 residents. It’s about a 2-hour drive southwest of downtown Indianapolis and a 90-minute drive northwest of Louisville, Kentucky.

The storm may have carried a tornado, and the National Weather Service planned to work Monday and Tuesday to confirm or deny that suspicion.

Bobbie Bostock, a Paoli Town Council member, told Storm Track 8 of the courthouse’s damage, “It’s not square no more. They have looked at it, so they have been inside, looked at the building. Structurally, they don’t know for sure.”

The courthouse clock on Monday was not keeping time. Three of the eight brick chimneys that punctuate the building’s profile have succumbed to the storm.    

“As fast as it came on, it left just as fast,” Natasha Rowlette said.

Rowlette and her husband live in an upstairs apartment in a downtown Paoli storefront on the east side of the courthouse square. The storm added some unwelcome ventilation.

“Then all of a sudden, the cold air returned. It was between the storefront and our our apartment area. There was something sitting in front of it, and it flew it across the apartment, and then we could hear the bricks falling, and we weren’t sure what was going on out there from there, but we knew something was wrong. So, of course, we tried to open the door, just to make sure, you know, slowly open the door, and try to make sure that what’s going out here, and is the rest of the building even here,” Rowlette said. 

The storm peeled off layers of brick. An emergency staircase from the second floor of the building was covered in brick. Windows are smashed. The Rowlettes’ lives are on hold. 

Just down the street in Paoli, Sharon Wininger and her great-granddaughter on Monday were surveying the neighborhood. “Well, our house is pretty quiet but when it came it came so fast we didn’t have time to do anything.”

She said she and her husband heard the sirens and cellphone alerts, and barely made it to the basement. The sound of snapping trees and glass breaking was like nothing she had ever experienced.

“It sounded terrible. I was scared and usually I’m not very afraid,” Wininger said.

The storm left a clear line of damage. Buildings just a few feet off the path were untouched.

The town of Paoli is littered with down power lines, trees hanging from utility lines. Cleanup crews battled rain and wind throughout the day slowing down their attempts to bring order to chaos left behind by the storm,