Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sue Powell of Bristol found what is believed to be a piece of sheet metal from the Nappanee tornado in a field on her farm along with a photograph. |67490 (AP)
Storm debris traveled far

Posted on Oct. 23, 2007 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 23, 2007 at 12:23 p.m.

In ordinary times, any bank receipt or invoice found on the grass might be picked up and thrown away with little more than a quick flick of the wrist and a small grumble about neighbors being untidy.

Around Elkhart County, however, residents have been finding such scraps of paper and documents, all bearing Nappanee addresses.

The tornado that barreled through the small city scattered items several miles away. Believing these simple articles may now be keepsakes to families and businesses that lost everything, residents are wondering what happened to the people whose names are printed on the paper and trying to return the pieces to their owners.

Interestingly, a credit union deposit slip found on a farm along C.R. 8 in Middlebury and invoices found in Bonneyville Mill County Park, Bristol, and at a home near Jefferson Elementary School, Goshen, all belong to the same Nappanee farmer.

The individual, Don Helmuth, lives on Hepton Road and is a distributor for Massachusetts-based IBA, a supplier to dairy farms.

A receptionist at IBA, Kathy Sabourin, said Helmuth called the company Friday morning and told them his house and his truck had been blown away but he was "well and in good spirits."

Photos of the damage to his home and his vehicle are now pinned to the bulletin board in IBA's offices and the business is willing to collect any of his papers that residents find and return them to him.

Since her brother found the deposit receipt in the family's front yard Friday morning, Kathy Miller in Middlebury has been trying to reach Helmuth by phone.

"The first time we left a message," she said. "The second time it said the mailbox is full and the third time it just rang and rang."

Slightly torn and bent, the snapshot that Sue Powell found by a fence on her Bristol farm off C.R. 4 has no date or name written on the back so she contacted The Truth, hoping the owner might recognize it.

The color photo shows two little boys and a little girl -- "three little angels," Powell called them -- asleep among a clump of stuffed animals, blankets and pillows.

"Most of the time, I wouldn't have bothered," Powell said of trying to return the picture, "but these people lost their house and everything in it. A photograph would probably be pretty valuable to them."

In addition to the personal items, bits of insulation and sheets of metal from the storm have landed in yards and are clinging to trees east and north of Nappanee.

While doing their regular Friday cleaning of Bonneyville Mill, maintenance worker Wilma Harder and her colleagues found siding, soffits and pieces of pink foam insulation strewn from one end of the park to the other.

Harder is skeptical that the debris came from Nappanee.

Todd Holsten, senior forecaster at the North Webster office of the National Weather Service, is not surprised. He explained that during any tornado, pieces and scraps of rubble can be sucked into the updraft and then carried for miles.

The fast-moving jet stream, unseasonably warm temperatures and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico came together Thursday to create a fertile environment for tornadoes, Holsten said.

Indeed the supercell that produced the tornado that hit Nappanee spawned four other twisters in Michigan north of Detroit. And Holsten is surprised that another one did not touch down in LaGrange County.

"I'm amazed we only got one tornado," he said. "We're pretty lucky actually."