> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Louisville National Weather Service staff members were on alert as they warned residents of Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky to take cover. Mike Callahan, a Jeffersonville resident and Hydrologist for the NWS, was at work the day tornadoes wiped out entire communities in Southern Indiana.
Earlier in the day, the NWS computer models revealed a supercell thunderstorm was brewing and headed for Pekin. Callahan’s wife, Rosy, was working at the elementary school there.
“A sinking feeling developed in me when I saw where the supercell was headed,” Mike Callahan said.
Rosy called Mike and described multiple funnels in the area; however, the tornado’s path avoided her school.
Still, throughout the day, Callahan couldn’t shake the feeling of helplessness.
“We issued tornado emergency warnings for towns along the path of destruction, but we suspected there would be lives lost as it went through populated areas,” he said.
While NWS employees saw the tornado moving quickly, those directly affected said the seconds of destruction seemed like hours. Soon after the sky cleared, footage of the massive destruction to the small Indiana towns of Pekin, Henryville, Marysville, Chelsea and others was on the Internet and television. People from California to New York saw the destruction of entire communities and listened as the numbers of lives lost escalated.
In all, the brutal tornado took at least 15 lives in Southern Indiana and many more were injured. Hundreds of homes and businesses were demolished.
IT HIT HOME
The Gilles Family from Henryville took a direct hit by the tornado, which destroyed their entire home. Darrell, Trish and their three children, Caleb, 11, Collin, 10, and Mia, 8, were inside the home as it was ripped from the foundation and thrown at least 300 yards. Their home is nothing more than sticks and rubble now. Still, Darrell Gilles is quick to say, “We are the lucky ones — we miraculously survived.”
Priorities come instinctively when dealing with tragic situations. When Darrell saw the tornado heading toward his family, he rushed them into a hall closet. Darrell and Trish threw blankets and pillows over their children, tightly wrapped their arms around them and prayed.
In the brief seconds before the house exploded, Trish disclosed what she feared were her last words.
“I told my babies they would soon hear loud noises, everything could go dark, they may have to let go of Mommy’s hands for a bit, but they would be OK.”
The children then heard their mother make this promise, “God will keep you safe.” Trish took a deep breath and prayed with all of her heart for the safety of the frightened children huddled beneath her.
Trish wasn’t alone in the prayers. As the winds began to tear apart their home, each member of the family was anxiously repeating a different prayer. She recalls that Caleb was praying for the safety of other members of the family, while Darrell was desperately repeating, “Please Jesus.”
After the winds stopped, Darrell opened his eyes and immediately felt intense pain. He saw Trish and called out to her. She responded, but couldn’t move. He then looked across the rubble and saw each of his children, lying face down into the ground — motionless. Despite serious injuries, he pulled himself up and began calling their names. One by one, they started to move.
The family miraculously survived the horrifying ordeal. Still, Mother Nature gave the family no relief. Darrell could see a second tornado and knew he had to move his family to safety. He couldn’t move Trish; therefore, he started walking the children toward a neighbor’s home. Nearly there, softball sized hail began brutally pelting the family.