Homes damaged in EF1 tornado

The powerful wind and rain didn’t seem that dangerous until a Center Grove man heard a window shatter upstairs.

Darrell Francis found a window had blown in at his home of 15 years off Smith Valley Road. And then he stepped outside to find firefighters in his driveway and his garage destroyed.

The EF1 tornado that blew through the Center Grove area Wednesday night started near Francis’ property, lifting his garage off the ground and setting it back down. The garage collapsed on top of his car and lawn equipment stored inside it, Francis said.

“A tornado in December is just surreal; it’s bizarre. The wind was just ferocious,” Francis said. “It seemed like my garage had just been picked up and shoved over about 10 or 12 feet. It was just an absolute disaster. I’m glad I’m OK.”

Francis was one of about 10 residents whose homes were damaged from Wednesday’s severe weather, which included an EF1 tornado and 90 mph winds. The National Weather Service determined it was an EF1 tornado based on the debris path. The scattered debris is due to circulation, rather than straight line winds, meteorologist Chad Swain said.

The tornado started on Smith Valley Road, touching down at 3:42 p.m., near the Carefree South neighborhood. The tornado was only on the ground for one minute, which is common for an EF1, Swain said.

No injuries were reported, Johnson County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Sichting said.

White River Township firefighters found damage at about 10 homes and one business. And Greenwood firefighters found multiple trees down, but no damage to homes. Crews were called to six accidents, Greenwood Fire Chief James Sipes said.

The tornado that started near Francis’ home moved east along the edge of the Carefree South neighborhood and through the yards of several homes that line Smith Valley Road.

One of those homes is a daycare, where Judi Negri had five children she was watching when the tornado barreled through her back yard between her house and several of her neighbors’ homes.

During the 47 years Negri has lived in her home, she has never seen a tornado, but she’s heard the stories from those who have. She didn’t have to see the tornado to know one was coming. Negri was changing a diaper when she heard what sounded like the rumble of a train.

“I heard a lot of loud thunder, the warning sirens go off, and then it was like that train sound you always hear people talk about, so I had my 13-year-old granddaughter help me get all the kids to the middle of the house,” Negri said.

Power went out during the tornado. The electrical meter was ripped off the side of Negri’s home, and power and telephone lines were draped along the fence, her car and house on Thursday morning. Negri was expecting 18 guests on Christmas Eve at her house, but had to move the annual family gathering to her daughter’s because she didn’t have power, Negri said.

The tornado moved through the back of Negri’s property and out toward businesses along State Road 135, where it pulled the roof off Academy Animal Hospital. The roof was tossed across the street, landing in front of medical offices near a bank, Sichting said.

Emergency workers shut down Smith Valley Road, likely preventing accidents that could have happened due to the storm that hit near rush hour at one of the area’s busiest intersections, White River Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said. Crews responded to one accident in White River Township.

The storm also knocked out traffic signals at U.S. 31 and County Line Road, bringing rush hour traffic to a stop-and-go pace. Vehicles were gridlocked along U.S. 31 from County Line Road to as far south as Main Street in Greenwood.

The worst damaged reported was to Francis’ garage and another home on Smith Valley Road, where a tree crashed into the house, Pell said. Most other damage was more minor, with shingles blown off and tree limbs damaging homes, Sichting said.

Lindsey Day lives across the street from the home significantly damaged by a tree, forcing the residents out. About 60 yards separated Day’s front door and her neighbor’s home that was so badly damaged, Day said.

“The only thing we lost was trash cans,” Day said. “I definitely feel for the people across the street from us. We weren’t even touched.”

Just off Smith Valley Road, a tree that was snapped in half fell less than 5 feet from crashing into Robert Kernodle’s living room. If the tree had been uprooted, the whole thing would have crashed through the family room, Kernodle said.

Kernodle and his neighbors spent Christmas Eve picking up what limbs they could carry and any other debris on the property that was blocking the driveway. About 12 trees were blown over or snapped in half, Kernodle said.

One of those trees was uprooted from the ground, landing on his neighbor’s vintage Chevy Camaro. The tree smashed the hood of the car, pressing the front grill into the ground and lifting the back wheels into the air.

“I’m thankful I’m OK, upset I lost a little bit of stuff. But it’s stuff I can do without and can be replaced,” Kernodle said. “It’s one of those things where Mother Nature takes her course, and she’s going to do what she’s going to do. You just have to live with Mother Nature.”

The total amount of damages won’t be determined for several days, Sichting said.

During the next three days, the county is expected to receive as much as 3 inches of rain in some areas, and Youngs Creek in Amity is already above the flood threshold. The National Weather Service has Johnson County on a flood warning for the weekend, Sichting said.

“We were just very lucky no injuries have been reported,” Sichting said. “Now flooding is a concern, though.”

Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.