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By Al Stilley
Beech Grove residents began helping each other Sunday in the aftermath of an EF-1 tornado that struck a 200-yard wide path and damaged buildings but miraculously with no injuries.
The tornado struck around 7:30 p.m., moving from southwest to northeast, striking a few homes on Elm Street near 9th Avenue, knocking down trees and utility poles near Emerson and Hornet avenues, damaging Beech Meadow apartment units and causing heavy damage to Beech Grove High School and Alro Steel.
The tornado was one of nine that struck south central Indiana as confirmed by the National Weather Service. Continuing rains Sunday added to the damage.
Beech Grove High School and Alro Steel were hardest hit by winds of 100 miles per hour Saturday.
A portion of the high school roof on the north side was lifted and blown away, leaving a gaping hole and resulting in damage to at least 15 classrooms, according to school Supt. Paul Kaiser. Water damage from additional rains Sunday and Monday added to the damage.
The tornado raised a portion of the heavy roof from its foundation pinning, leaving the extent of structural damage immediately unknown. The football field scoreboard was blown down. Kaiser said that summer classes, band and athletic activities would be moved to other school buildings.
Kaiser promised that the high school would open for the new school year on July 31, but with contingency plans that could include temporary classrooms or e-learning.
At Alro Steel, just northeast of the high school, the tornado blew away roof sections, portions of walls on the west and south side of the building before tearing away most of the east wall of the massive 220,400 square foot facility.
Some homes also were damaged in the Churchman Woods subdivision.
LaPetite Academy, Regions Bank and Taco Bell sustained damage when the tornado hit Emerson Avenue west of the high school. Power outages affected nearby businesses and homes.
The tornado was on the ground for just a few seconds.
The Red Cross established a shelter at the unscathed Hornet Park Community Center, just east of the high school. Several families, many from the nearby Beech Meadow apartment complex, went to the shelter where cots, blankets, food were made available. A food truck arrived Sunday for affected residents to pick up meals while cleaning up damaged property.
Fred Shonk, columnist for The Southsider Voice, and therapy dog Stuart visited the center and read to a family whose children were comforted by petting Stuart.
Sunday morning, Beech Grove Mayor Dennis Buckley visited the center and vowed, “We will clean up and rebuild.”
Crews from Speedway Indoor Karting and Whiteland Raceway Park returned to the parking lots between the center and the high school to clean up debris and recover temporary fencing and barriers that were placed Saturday for the inaugural Grand Prix of Beech Grove that was canceled.
“It was chaos,” remarked Beech Grove native Andy O’Gara, organizer and promoter of the karting event. “It was crazy when it hit, but everybody got through it without a scratch. I feel badly for the charities that we were going to help with proceeds from the event.”
O’Gara’s wife, Sarah Fisher tweeted Sunday: “Humbled by the showing of family, friends & community that helped clean up today in Beech Grove. Andy and I are genuinely thankful for each and every one of those that helped or supported in every way. We are grateful everyone was ok! We are all here to race another day.”
Beech Grove High School wrestling and football players and coaches also assisted residents throughout the city in removing debris, limbs and trees.
Residents and neighbors joined together in helping each other on Elm Street were several homes were damaged by the tornado and falling trees.