Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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Z_CNHI News Service

November 18, 2013

Walk-in beer coolers shelter 100 storm survivors

KOKOMO, Ind. — Alex Binkley, manager-in-training at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, got an unexpected lesson Sunday afternoon in coping with the sudden fear of a severe storm strike.

"As soon as I felt the wind beating up against the walls, I knew we were going to get hit," he recalled.  "All our lights started shaking. All the TVs started shaking. Then the lights went out and the wind hit."

Binkley said he quickly directed more than two-dozen customers and employees into the restaurant's three walk-in food and beer coolers. They were soon joined by shoppers from nearby stores in the Kokomo Mall, including several people from J.C. Penney's, where the ceiling caved in.

By the time the ferocious winds hit their peak, said Binkley, 100 survivors were huddled safely in the coolers, waiting out the storm.

"Every building (in the mall) except ours pretty much got destroyed," he said. "But everybody here stayed pretty calm."

Binkley declared he restaurant and its coolers the "savior of the mall."

Authorities said Kokomo, located 60 miles north of Indianapolis, was the Indiana city hardest hit by Sunday's severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that swept across the Midwest. More than 6,000 homes and businesses lost power in and around Kokomo. There were no reports of death.

A few miles from the mall, Michael Gardner, 21, had just returned home with four of his friends from a church luncheon when the first tornado warnings occurred. Gardner said they scrambled from the second floor of the home to the basement just in time, with the last person jumping down the basement stairs as the house began to move.

In an instant, he said, the wind caused the house to collapse, burying Gardner and his friends in rubble. But none of them were harmed.

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