Tornadoes slam into US state of Indiana, demolishing numerous buildings, cutting electricity

A tornado seen east of Kokomo, Indiana.
A tornado seen east of Kokomo, Indiana.PHOTO: TWITTER ACCOUNT OF J. DOUGLAS BOLES

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Thunderstorms and tornadoes plowed through central Indiana on Wednesday (Aug 24), demolishing numerous homes and a Starbucks shop in the city of Kokomo while leaving thousands of Indianapolis-area residents without electricity, but no serious injuries were immediately reported.

Governor and Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, who cut short a campaign trip for running mate Donald Trump and returned to Indiana, said eight funnel clouds were confirmed and three touched down during a "very tough day of weather".

Tornado warnings were issued in 27 counties, but no one was known to have been killed or badly hurt, Mr Pence said, adding that he would remain in Indiana for "as long as we need to be here".

He planned to visit storm-ravaged areas with Lieutenant-Governor Eric Holcomb on Thursday.

Ten to 12 people were reported to have suffered minor injuries in Howard County, which apparently bore the brunt of the storms, according to John Erickson, spokesman for the state Homeland Security Department.

At least one "large and extremely dangerous" tornado struck near Indianapolis, the state's capital and largest city, as severe thunderstorms rolled through the region in the late afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

But Kokomo, a city of 45,000 people about 100km north of Indianapolis, appeared to be the epicentre of storm damage, including a flattened Starbucks outlet and numerous houses left splintered or with roofs and walls torn away.

Video footage apparently shot with a cellphone through the window of a bar across the street and aired by Indianapolis-based NBC News affiliate WTHR-TV showed the entire front wall and facade of the Starbucks collapsing in the wind.

Starbucks customers and employees "piled into" the restroom to shield themselves as the storm closed in, according to a police account related to Reuters by City Councilman Bob Cameron.

"They all got in there. That was a smart move," he said, adding that shoppers at a nearby Krogers supermarket likewise waited out the storms in coolers at the back of the store.

An adjacent shopping mall was reported to have been heavily damaged, and Mr Erickson said a nursing home in Howard County also sustained storm damage.

Aerial footage of Kokomo broadcast by WTHR also showed a five-block residential area where at least 10 homes were largely obliterated and several others heavily damaged by the storm.

Photos posted online by Indianapolis Fox affiliate WXIN-TV showed a garden apartment complex heavily damaged in Kokomo. The Salvation Army of Indiana reported assisting 200 people in need of food and shelter.

Indianapolis public education officials delayed sending school children home on buses for nearly two hours, waiting until the weather cleared.

Power outages were reported across the state, with about 42,000 homes and businesses without electricity at the height of the storms, including 24,000 outages in Howard County alone, Mr Erickson said.

Indiana State Police Sergeant Tony Slocum said in a Twitter message that "numerous structures" were damaged in Kokomo, with an unspecified number of "minor injuries" reported in surrounding county.

AccuWeather.com reported that two severe thunderstorms had produced tornadoes, one just northwest of Indianapolis and the other in the Kokomo area, which according to media reports appeared to have borne the brunt of the storms.

Television station WLS-TV in Chicago, an ABC News affiliate, reported that at least five tornadoes had struck Indiana, hitting the towns of Kokomo, Arcana, Geneva and Crawfordsville.

WTHR reported that in addition to the flattened Starbucks, a tornado had caused substantial damage to a shopping mall. Footage posted on the station's website showed a dark, swirling storm with flashes of lightning as cars passed by along wet roads in the area.

Photos posted on social media showed homes with siding ripped off and scattered debris in yards. Another photo showed a barn reduced to rubble.

Mr Pence tweeted: "Keeping Hoosiers and first responders in our prayers as dangerous weather moves through Indiana."

More than 22,000 customers were without power north of Indianapolis, Duke Energy reported. Another utility, the Indianapolis Power and Light Company, said roughly 11,000 customers were without electricity in the afternoon.

Howard County emergency management and sheriff's office officials said they were gathering information on the extent of damage in the area and whether there were any casualties.

The county issued a state of emergency to remain in effect until 9pm Eastern Daylight Time.

Tornado warnings were issued before 3pm as a storm moved through Boone and Montgomery counties, including Crawfordsville, a city of some 16,000 residents about 80km northwest of Indianapolis.