SULLIVAN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Rich and Kelli Cole and their granddaughter Rilie survived the F3 tornado that ripped through Sullivan County trapping them in their basement.
Kelli said that they have been married for 38 years, lived and worked their farm for the last 32 years and in about 15 seconds they lost their home, their family farm, and the majority of their pocessions.
Kelly was busy sorting through their salvaged items, “We have maybe 20 totes from the whole house,” she said.
Friday night Rich was in bed when the tornado alert went off on his phone. He went to the porch to look west like he does with any storm.
“We always watch the power plant smokestack,” Rich said. “The wind was blowing a little bit, but the smoke was blowing to the north and then it started slowly coming back around. Changed opposite directions. I told her, we better go to the basement,” he added.
They saw an explosion and quickly moved to the basement. Rich opened a window to keep an eye on the sky.
“You couldn’t see anything, pitch black,” Rich said.
Then, he recalled a flash of lightning that lit up the sky.
“I was able to see what was coming,” Rich said. “The tornado was coming,” he added.
The Cole’s hunkered down. Rich said the impact of the storm hit like putting a cable around their home and pulling it away.
His wife, Kelli spoke up, “I thought we were going to be buried alive,” she said. Rich agreed.
“If we lived, we were going to be buried,” Kelli said. “I just kept thinking, how are we going to get out, how we going to get out? My head felt like it was going to explode off and we were just holding on to each other, we had a dog with us,” she added.
Their granddaughter recalled the moment she knew they were trapped.
“The scariest part was I kept trying to call 911, and nothing was going through, and it was like, you were just in there (the basement) and couldn’t get out,” Rilie said.
The Coles worked their way out of a small opening in the basement after clearing out ventilation ducts. They found a highchair to climb on so that Rich could pull himself up through the hole. Kellie and Rilie were not tall enough, even with the highchair. Rich pulled them out. They were disoriented, eventually making their way south. Thanks to a neighbor for calling out to them.
“Come this way, come this way,” Kelli said the neighbor was yelling.
They walked through the ditch, as the roadway was completely blocked by debris, to a neighbor’s home that was damaged, but luckily, still standing.
Kelli recalled that they were the last ones out of their home in the vicinity of their county road.
“We were the last ones out. They had those kids already over in that house, the other neighbors were already over in that house,” she said.
The Coles said that the outpouring of support has been incredible.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to thank everybody. I don’t know how to repay. I don’t know how to repay everybody,” Kelli said.
Their home of 32 years, their family home, and their livelihood were lost.
“We’re just living minute by minute, hour by hour and we try to plan every morning what we’re going to do the next day and try to get that list done,” Kelli said.
The Coles are grateful to be alive and grateful for their community. Kelli said that even the couple they bought the home from 32 years ago saw the route of the storm and drove over from the Bedford area, just to give them a hug. A small gesture that truly warmed their hearts.