Ind. town hard to find, but tornado leaves mark

March 3, 2012 - 8:57 PM
Severe Weather Daisy Hills Disaster

Cindy Lanham examines her Ford Explorer that was flung roughly 100 yards onto a neighbor's property during a tornado that flattened her home on Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Daisy Hill, Ind. Lanham and her husband escaped the previous day's twister by hunkering down in the basement, which was the only thing that remained after the storm that swept away much of Daisy Hill passed (AP Photo/Jim Suhr)

DAISY HILL, Ind. (AP) — This is a town that's almost impossible to find, even if you're trying. But a massive tornado did.

Daisy Hill's name evokes beauty, winding along Blue River Road before it eases into Honey Run Road. But a twister nearly swept the tiny Indiana enclave away, leaving its mark with fickleness by what it tore apart and what it left unblemished.

"There ain't nothing left," said Rick Stansberry as he took a break from the chain saw he used to clear away a once-towering pine tree that toppled onto headstones in Daisy Hill's cemetery.

Many of the small towns dotting the southern Indiana landscape felt the brunt of Friday's violent storms that barreled across the Midwest and South, killing more than 35 people.

But at first glance, the devastation here might go unnoticed. You have to go past the small waterfall and up the dirt road that slopes sharply skyward before you get to a crest. That's when the startling damage of this otherwise scenic trove of about a dozen homes comes into view.

Miraculously, no one died in Daisy Hill. They hunkered for cover and held on until it passed.

Dorothy Nelson and her daughter Lisa Yates ran into the basement of their brick home and hid beneath the cedar steps in a bathroom hardly larger than a closet. Each put pillows over their head and braced. Yates grabbed the sink while draping herself over her mom.

When the air grew quiet again, the women made their way up the stairs and were smacked with the aftermath.

The roof was gone. Foam insulation covered the floor and kitchen table, so saturated by rain it felt like sand. A ceiling fan dangled above the living room couch. Glass shards were everywhere. A downed power line snaked across their front yard.

On Saturday, as the two counted their blessings and picked through the rubble, Nelson held up a chunk of dishware, then wondered: "This is my good china. Where did that come from?"

Equally curious were her eyeglass lenses left on the kitchen table. The frame on the floor. In a hutch, her finer dishes were untouched.

"You want to see something amazing? Look at that flower," Nelson implored as she pointed to a potted purple-and-white bouquet, unscathed on the counter. "That flower didn't move."

Nelson then cried as her thoughts turned to her husband, the household's handyman before his death a year ago. He put in the basement bathroom because it was in the sturdiest place in the house, as if he had a premonition that someday it might be put to use and save lives.

"We're still in shock," Yates, 46, said. "But we have family, and we're gonna be all right."

Across the narrow road, amid a debris field with mattresses and occasional heaps of everyday life that looked like they went through a blender, Cindy Lanham bundled up against temperatures in the 40s as she helped her family rustle up their belongings. Only the foundation of her home of 12 years remained intact.

Her scrapbooks, the house's insurance papers and her quilts were nowhere to be found. But she had her life and credits the cellar for that.

As the storm barreled down, she and husband crouched in the basement corner, put their arms over their heads and held on. Moments later, they looked up and saw only sky through where the floor had been.

Debris gashed her husband's head, though on Saturday he still gritted it out without the stitches his wife believed he needed. Lanham escaped with just a cut arm.

"We came out, and it was kind of a blur," she said, choking back tears. "Of course, it was all gone."

Their basement was inundated with rainwater a couple feet deep. A rocking chair rested toppled in the muck, along with an overturned water heater.

Lanham shook her head before her son handed her the keys to her Ford Explorer. It had been found in a neighbor's yard, at least 100 yards away. The discovery gave her an instant of joy.

"That's what I was looking for," she crowed.

But rebounding from the tornado could be a challenge for Lanham, whose mother died three weeks ago just 11 days after being diagnosed with cancer.

"It ate her up," she said, crying before collecting herself and pressing on.

"We prayed for sunshine today," she smiled. "And we got it."