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Hoosier hog farm rebuilds after tornado
By KIM TIBBS
Indiana Correspondent

LOOGOOTEE, Ind. — When an unexpected F-3 tornado came sweeping across southern Indiana on the afternoon of Nov. 15, Lee Graber, 27, was laying some hardwood flooring down in his new home.

“Several seconds of warning was all we had,” Graber said. “We went for the basement, but I think the worst part of the storm was already over by then. It rained extremely hard afterwards. Thankfully, nobody was hurt.”

Once the storms had passed, the Graber family was left to survey the severe damages that had been inflicted in its path. The family operates a large hog farm at 8398 N. and 1225 E. just outside of Loogootee, which is approximately 100 miles straight south of Indianapolis.

“It was a total loss – one 10-foot-by-10-foot building and part of my new house were the only things left standing,” Graber said. “We were just building a new house, and its roof was torn completely off. The old house we had been living in was completely destroyed.”

Graber said he had just purchased the plot of land about three years ago when he decided he wanted to become a hog farmer.

“I’m still pretty green, yet,” Graber said with a laugh. “We always had a few hogs around when I was growing up and I always liked raising them. I was 24 when I bought the land and it was doing OK as a major operation until now.”

Graber said representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross came out to his farm within a day or two of the tornadoes to offer their support and some relief. “I feel very comfortable with what we received from them,” Graber said. “The turnaround was really quick – they arrived with coffee and chocolates, etc. literally the next day. They’ve been down through here quite a bit. I believe they said 80-some houses received damages and 30-some houses were completely totaled within a 30-mile radius.

“It didn’t hit any large towns, just this rural area. We are happy and thankful for what we got. We received lots of help from friends and neighbors and even total strangers who came from as far away as Ohio, Illinois and Fort Wayne, Ind.”

Graber said his bank has estimated his total damages – including buildings and equipment – at around $1 million. Out of 600 sows, only seven were found dead in the aftermath and 50 remain unaccount for. “I don’t know how soon we’ll be back in business, but we do plan to rebuild,” he said. “We’re still cleaning up and slowly rebuilding. We’ve already got two barns and a machine shed up again, plus we have finished the repairs to the new house.”

According to a recent article posted at www.fema.gov, a disaster information helpline is available to all Indiana residents who have already applied for assistance as a result of the November tornadoes and severe storms and either need more information about programs or wish to check the status of their applications. The FEMA helpline number is 800-621-FEMA (3362) or 800-462-7585 (TTY) for people with speech or hearing impairments.

Recovery officials also encourage people with flood-related losses who have not yet registered for assistance to do so immediately by calling the same number. Both the helpline and registration line are available 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (CST), seven days a week until further notice.

Graber said all three of his young children – ages 2, 4 and 5 – were with him in the house at the time of the storm, something which is likely to have an effect on them for some time.

“Every time the wind blows or there’s a noise outside, my boys are really scared,” Graber said. “It has definitely left an impression on them.”

This Indiana farm news was published in the December 7, 2005 issue of Farm World.

12/7/2005