KOKOMO, Ind. (WTHR) – A new Starbucks is going up in the parking lot of Markland Mall at the same location in Kokomo where a tornado toppled the coffee shop on the afternoon of August 24, 2016, with some 20 customers and employees inside.
“It's almost like having your little home back,” said Angel Ramos, looking at the new building under construction one year later.
Ramos was the Starbucks shift manager credited with likely saving lives or serious injuries when he rounded up customers and employees into the bathrooms as the tornado approached. Brandon Mobley was working on the air conditioning at the Chili’s restaurant next door and shot video on his phone of the Starbucks falling. The video became likely the most viewed images from the tornado that ripped through Kokomo, destroying 80 homes and damaging 1,000 others.
“Looking at the destruction was something, but watching it fall, watching it tumble like that knowing that there were people in there - that I was in there with them - it's not something you ever get used to,” said Ramos. “You get goose bumps every time you watch it."
Ramos heard the tornado warning on his phone and saw the destructive funnel cloud approaching before shutting the door to the restrooms.
“The most beautiful and terrifying thing I had ever seen,” Ramos said with a chuckle. “That was my first time. I don't think I'd purposely do it again. Once we actually shut the doors and it started rumbling, everyone sort of put their hands over their necks kind of like a reflex and we just waited it out for the 10 seconds that it might have happened. We were only there for a couple minutes until somebody came knocking.”
Everyone was safe inside, but trapped by jammed doors blocked by cinder blocks. Mobley used his tools to remove the door.
“It kind of brings into perspective how at any point you could just not be there anymore or how taking the right precautions does pay off in the long run not just for you but maybe for other people,” said Ramos. “If you see a warning on your phone, if you have somebody telling you that you need to take shelter, it's definitely better to do that than the alternative. It's nothing to be messed with. It's something to be taken very seriously. It's quite important."
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Ramos was riding a bike to work last year at the time of the tornado. Now he drives a 2012 Toyota Camry. A GoFundMe page raised $5,000 to help him buy a car to drive to work at another Starbucks while his location was closed.
“It was humbling to see so many people come out and reach out for support not just for me but towards this town,” said Ramos. “You would see people out there by masses helping clean things out, making sure everyone's okay, has food and has a place to stay. People just came together in an absolutely awesome way.”
Ramos now works in construction, helping rebuild Kokomo. But he still has a close connection to Starbucks. Earlier this month, he married a former co-worker named Susan. She works at the temporary Starbucks location at Markland Mall and will be part of the staff that opens the new store.
“I can't wait to sit down and have a cup of coffee there in the morning,” said Ramos. “As soon as it opens, I'll be their first nagging, annoying customer."