Reporter: Bob Segall Producer: Gerry Lanosga Photojournalist: Bill Ditton
With a spate of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, spring cleaning in central Indiana has taken on a whole new meaning for people like Larry Pickett.
"Lots of people lost everything," Pickett said of the tornado that hit Shelby County a few weeks ago. Pickett didn’t lose everything – just his garage. But he was inside that garage just moments before it was blown apart.
"It literally got a direct hit," he said. "We were way too close."
Why didn't he get to safety sooner? The oncoming storm knocked out his satellite TV and then his electricity. To make matters worse, Pickett lives more than three and a half miles from the nearest tornado warning siren.
"There's no way to hear it out here," he said. "If we had a siren go off we would have been out of there long before the tornado would have gotten here, I think. There would have been a lot more warning."
The map tells the story – each dot showing the location of one of the 348 sirens in the area. Under ideal conditions, a siren can be heard up to a mile and half away, so all of the green area shows places where you'd hear a tornado siren when it's activated. But if you or someone you know lives in a red area, that’s a dead spot, and all these sirens won't do you any good.
Hancock County is just one area where large swaths of territory are not covered by sirens. In June 1998, a tornado ripped through the county, hitting Buck Creek Township the hardest. Eight years later, there isn't a single tornado siren in that township. And there are no sirens in Green Township, Brandywine Township or Blue River Township, either. Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling admits most of the county is unprotected.
"Geographically speaking, 90 percent of the county, 80 percent of the county, is not covered," he said.
Next door, Hamilton County has far more sirens than in Hancock – three times more. But even here, emergency management officials say, they don't have nearly as many warning sirens as they should.
"We should have 100 sirens," said Emergency Management Director David Bice. "To date we have 57."
That’s a safety risk, Bice said, but "in the end, it comes down to money."
Adding a new warning siren costs $20,000 to $30,000 – money many communities just don't have.
"In the rural areas of our community it's just not practical to put a siren on every corner, so to speak, and I don't think that's going to happen," Gulling said.
Larry Pickett understands that.
"We realize it can't be on every street corner out here, but this area is pretty well populated," he said.
Pickett's rural neighborhood several miles west of Morristown had about 300 residents listed in the 2000 census.
He said investing in tornado sirens would be well worth the cost, especially in Shelby County, where there are only seven tornado sirens. That's seven sirens to cover 413 square miles.
"There's no reason we shouldn't have some sort of warning system out here," he said. "It might save someone's life down the road."
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