Sheriff Mark Whittaker shares tornado response

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DARKE COUNTY – On Thursday night, March 14 at 8 pm, a Tornado Warning was issued in Darke County. Between 8:10 and 8:15, the Darke County Sheriff’s Office received word that a tornado had touched down in Union City. 

“I had several people ask me how things were in the county,” Sheriff Whittaker said. “Well, on Monday, things were pretty good in the county. The deputies weren’t overly busy; they were getting things done, and we were feeling really good. Well, it’s amazing what can happen in a few days.” 

All tornado sirens went off, Code Red alerts went off, and several news stations covered it. 

“I’m positive that saved lives,” he added. “This could’ve been so much worse. If you see the damage, you’d understand why I’m saying this.” 

The National Weather Service classified the tornado that hit Darke County as an EF2. Whittaker noted that the Indianapolis National Weather Service declared the tornado an EF3 in Indiana. 

Whittaker, Darke County Emergency Management Agency, some Sheriff deputies, and Greenville Township Fire & Rescue Chiefs traveled around the county doing damage assessments. 

The tornado crossed the state line around Converse Road, traveled west to east, crossing almost the entire county, and traveled around 20 miles before it entered Miami County. 

Based on FEMA regulations, their assessment found five houses to be destroyed, 15 to have major damage, 18 to have minor damage, and 15 to be affected. 

“We are using FEMA rules on this damage,” Sheriff Whittaker said. “They give me a little chart. I’m just telling you when I use a picture of a house and they give an example and list things, if my house was considered minor damage, it would be major to me.” 

Whittaker shared that a house considered Major damaged could need to be rebuilt like one considered destroyed, and a house considered minor or just affected could require thousands and thousands of dollars in repairs. 

The sheriff also shared that the report only covers residential houses and not barns, garages, or outbuilding structures. The team that conducted the damage assessment counted, and over 40 of these structures were destroyed. With so much property in these barns, along with the county being largely agricultural, it is millions of dollars worth of damage. 

The first 911 call came in at 8:34 pm. A mobile home had been rolled over and destroyed in the 1600 block of State Route 571. That call was the first of many, and the calls came in nonstop afterward. 

Fire departments from all over the county came to the area and followed the tornado damage. Two adults were transferred to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, but most injuries were minor enough that EMS crews could take care of them. 

“I think we had five or six deputies just jump into their car, come out, and say, hey, I’m here; where do you need me?” the Sheriff said. “At any given time, we probably had eight or nine deputy sheriffs out with the rescue folks working the area. 

As soon as the tornado came through, sheriffs from Montgomery and Greene Counties also called and offered their help. 

Chief Brian Phillips was the incident commander, giving Whittaker and Mindy Saylor from Darke County EMA regular updates. He and his crew were confident that they stopped in every driveway, looked everywhere, and were sure not to leave anyone behind. 

There was no serious injury or loss of life in Darke County. While talking to those whose houses were destroyed and damaged, they all shared that they were watching the news, heard the sirens, paid attention, and took cover. 

Whittaker shared one of their stories. 

“He and his wife knew the storm was coming, they went into his brand new machine shop, and they think they are going to get under some steel, and he thought that was the safest place,” Whittaker said. “He said they were sitting there, and the storm was kicking up, and the more he thought about it, the more he thought, Man, I don’t think we should be here. He and his wife run back into their house, go to the center of the house, and grab some pillows to cover their heads. As quickly as they were able to do that, the tornado came through and took the entire roof off of his house, and his house was kind of blown apart from the pressure. He walked outside after it was over, and every one of his structures, outbuildings, and the machine shop was gone. They would’ve been killed had they stuck with their original plan.” 

Whittaker noted that during the damage assessment, there were people helping people. Neighbors, friends, family, and strangers helping one another with the damages.

“I got out and said, hey, is this your place? And he goes I don’t even know who lives here. I’m just here to help out. I kept running into that,” Sheriff Whittaker concluded. 

If you were affected by the storms, you are encouraged to call the American Red Cross at 1-800-RedCross. 

Two Disaster Relief trucks are set up in Greenville to help those affected. One is by the Greenville City building, and the other is at Tribute Funeral Homes. If you can help, they are taking donations of toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, body soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste, baby wipes and diapers, tampons and pads, clothes (especially underwear), towels and washcloths, and food.