Ireland rocked as storm blasts through county

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Brian Eger of Evansville searched for salvageable items outside the tornado-damaged home of his mother-in-law Betty Mehringer in Ireland on Wednesday morning. More photos of damage from the storm can be found here.


IRELAND — A National Weather Service survey team was expected on the ground in the Ireland area today to determine if a tornado was responsible for rendering several houses uninhabitable, destroying farm buildings and felling numerous trees, poles and electric lines.

As yet, there have been no reports of injury in Dubois County made to any of the members of emergency responding departments and agencies who pulled all-nighters alongside citizens assisting them and their neighbors.

Not all areas were as lucky.

Lost River Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tim Parke lives with his family in Martin County, just north of Hillham off State Road 56 along Rusk Road on the Dubois-Martin-Orange counties line.

“We heard a big roaring noise,” Parke said. “It sounded like an explosion.”

Parke’s father, William Parke, 77, lives with him and the chief heard his father yell from his bedroom.

“We’ve got pine trees and there was trees through the wall and limbs in his bed,” the chief said. “I picked him up and got him and the rest of the family in the hall.

“We’re in the ER” at Memorial Hospital in Jasper, Parke said this morning. “It broke his arm pretty bad.”

Photo courtesy Tim Parke
William Parke, 77, was injured when pine trees were forced through the wall of his bedroom during the storm. More photos of damage from the storm can be found here.

To get his father to the hospital, Parke said, members of the Lost River Department had to cut and winch trees off roads because ambulances could not approach. “I had two of the guys come on foot to the house to help me with him,” an emotional Parke related. “Them guys — I can’t say enough about them. I’m just flabbergasted.”

“We’re extremely lucky” to have no injury reports in Dubois County, said Dubois County Emergency Management Agency Director Tammy Humbert. “We’ve got really widespread damage.”

And, while nothing is confirmed, Humbert is convinced the daylight assessment will find a tornado hit the Ireland area overnight.

“I don’t know how big it is yet,” Humbert said long before daylight. “As much as I’ve seen, I’m adamant this was a tornado. I’m not going to say the tornado didn’t lift at all — if it went up and down — I don’t know any of that yet.”

Ireland Volunteer Fire Department Chief Stan Seifert said the storm’s damage track appears to start in the vicinity of county roads 900W and 150N west of Ireland at the county’s border. From there, the chief said, it made an angle to county roads 800W and 200N and kept at that angle through Ireland.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
A cedar tree was blown into Mark Braunecker's driveway on Church Avenue in Ireland, burying two of his trucks. More photos of damage from the storm can be found here.

Humbert said the tornado appears to have lifted after it passed Church Avenue on Ireland’s north side.

Some of the heavy damage involved transmission lines down on 600W, according to authorities.

Multiple rounds of severe storms passed through Dubois County overnight but the one suspected of cloaking a tornado arrived just after midnight.

Damage reports began to trickle in around 12:30 a.m., when it was reported that a suspected tree was thought to be on a house in the 2200 block of 750W.

Instead, authorities said, its roof was gone. It was the Kenneth Mehringer home and a woman had to be assisted out by firefighters.

“She was out sitting in the living room when we got there,” Seifert said. “Part of the back wall had caved in.”

Another house on County Road 200N was missing a roof and a house on County Road 150N lost its side.

“I know I’ve got three homes totaled,” Humbert said. “They are not going to be able to live in them. Their roofs are just completely removed.

“We’ve got barns destroyed and trees down.”

Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Holy Family facilities manager Tim Kempf of Jasper assessed the storm damage of the church's sign this morning in Jasper. Kempf said the sign was standing when he got the church just after 5 a.m., but around 6 a.m. two partitioners told him it had toppled over. More photos of damage from the storm can be found here.

The Scott Vollmer farm had several turkey buildings heavily damaged, with a brooder house reportedly destroyed.

“Farbest (Foods) is supposed to come and move the turkeys out today,” Humbert said.

Scott’s father, Larry Vollmer, who lives less than a quarter mile due east, did not have significant damage, according to Seifert. “It didn’t even touch down,” the chief said. And it did not appear that Scott’s home was significantly damaged.

The John Deere dealership near Ireland appeared to have escaped significant damage as well, Seifert said.

Seifert said an old chicken house and a barn at the Sylvester Miller farm north of County Road 250N on County Road 750W is gone.

Superintendent Steve Berg and a heavy contingent of his Dubois County Highway Department personnel got to the Ireland/County Road 650W area around 12:30 a.m. and concentrated on closing roadways to get trees and debris out of the way for power line crews.

“We’ve got crews out all around the county picking up little stuff here and there,” Berg said.

In the Town of Ireland, Berg is telling residents that, if they can bring downed limbs and the debris to the road, county crews will take it as they clear debris from roadways and rights of way.

“There is a lot of metal,” Berg said. “From what I understand, there was a turkey house that got hit. A lot of shingles, too. A lot of roof damage is what I’ve been seeing.”

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
A statue of Mary carrying the baby Jesus behind St. Mary Catholic Church in Ireland was seemingly untouched as nearby trees were knocked down during the early morning storms. More photos of damage from the storm can be found here.

Dubois Rural Electric Cooperative Operations Manager Dave Ruhe said most of his utility’s problems are west of Ireland, where about 20 poles are broken. Power was restored this morning to most of Ireland and two crews each from Jasper Municipal Utilities and Southern Indiana REC from Tell City are assisting with further repairs.

“Hopefully, by this evening we’re going to get the majority of the people on,” Ruhe said. “We’re going to do our best to get everybody on by dark.”

Vectren crews were also working west of Ireland where that utility had poles broken.

Other Dubois REC outage areas could be found south of Huntingburg and into the Ferdinand, Birdseye and Crawford County areas. Ruhe said there were about 15 outages in those areas.

Members of the Ireland Volunteer Fire Department walked a female motorist to safety after she attempted to navigate her four-wheel-drive vehicle around a downed power line and became stuck along County Road 600W south of County Road 250N. She was reportedly transported to Ireland’s fire station to be reunited with her husband.

“I actually got to talk to her,” Humbert said. “She thought she would be able to get around the ditch. It was a small ditch.”

Long before the sun came up today, authorities were extolling the selflessness of agencies whose off-duty members rushed back to help.

“The community has just been amazing already,” Humbert said from Ireland. “Once again, we are all one in Dubois County. That part has been wonderful.”

Authorities are asking the public to avoid the Ireland area and points west so authorities can get a grasp of what they are dealing with and how much debris must be removed. Roads such as county roads 600W, 800W and 150N remain closed while crews work on lines and poles and clear debris.

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