INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — For millions of people, the 30-foot-long recreational vehicle that belonged to Phil and Juli Lawrence is now known only for its calamitous end — a short, tornado-propelled flight and a hard, crushing thud into the roof of a nearby house.
The pictures of their crumbled travel trailer — once an 8,000-pound rolling room with a view — were beamed across national television and splashed across the pages of newspapers, making the image the symbolic shorthand for the storm that sideswiped metro Indianapolis yet mercifully killed no one.
To the Lawrences, the RV was, of course, something more. It is the vehicle they took on a 1,500-mile round trip to Florida a couple of years ago that was their little girl’s first excursion to the beach.
It was the vehicle that, since they became Hoosiers a year and a half ago, was their home away from home as they introduced themselves to a number of Indiana playgrounds — Brown County State Park, Clifty Falls, Cataract Falls and others.
And for Phil, who plays the mandolin, violin and guitar, the 2012 Rockwood tow-behind was a mobile base for his bluegrass road show. He plays in a band, hits a number of festivals and even won a hubcap — yes, a hubcap — for being the “best parking lot picker” at one of the musical convocations.
Yet, after the tornado was done with the RV, those memories were about all that was left. The Lawrences called their insurance company to pronounce it dead. They picked through the debris for a few salvageable items. And they began fielding texts from smart aleck friends who said they heard Phil had an RV for sale that was pretty cheap. They’ve taken it all with good humor.
“I haven’t gotten any takers, yet,” he told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1o97iNz ).
The flight of the RV is yet another testimony to the power and finicky nature of tornadoes.
The vehicle had been parked snuggly — maybe within a foot — of the Lawrence’s brick home on East County Road 200 South, a nebulous area just inside Hendricks County that has Indianapolis mailing addresses, Avon schools and Plainfield fire protection.
Witnesses said the tornado lifted the vehicle almost straight up before dropping it onto the Lawrence’s front lawn. There the camper — or the wind — wiped out a couple of trees like they were bowling pins and left a couple of chunky divots in the grass as well as one perfectly straight scar which looks suspiciously like the edge of a camper roof.
But that was only the start of the RV’s final, fateful trip.
Bystanders told neighbors that the vehicle launched upward again — this time maybe a hundred feet into the air and turned end over like a football after kickoff, sailing ever closer to Don Rackley’s home next door.
As it approached, Rackley was scrambling inside to help his two young grandsons, ages 6 and 2, find an interior room. Just as they did, the RV slammed into the area where the front porch connects to the roof. The sound, both Rackley and his 6-year-old grandson said, was akin to an explosion of a bomb.
The camper came to rest, upside down, right outside where the front door used to be. Amazingly, neither Rackley nor his grandsons were hurt. The house, however, could end up being a total loss, as pictures that were beamed around the world attest. For now, Rackley’s family — who had insurance — is staying in a hotel.
The Lawrences, who were not home when the storm hit and whose home was virtually unblemished by the storm, say they feel bad that their RV created such havoc for their neighbors. “I know it’s going to be a long haul for them,” Juli said.
The Rackleys say that guilt is misplaced.
“It wasn’t nobody’s fault. It was parked where it should have been parked,” Don Rackley said. “Mother Nature is amazing what it can do.”
Always cordial, the two neighboring families are now connected by the famous flying RV. And they are trying to help one another cope in the aftermath.
With much of their roof gone and their belongings exposed to the elements, the Rackleys have been stowing some of their things in the dry environment of the Lawrences’ garage.
When the Lawrences went picking through the debris of the camper in search of salvageable items, Don Rackley was there to help. Unfortunately, other than some folding chairs, a handmade quilt and a crockpot lid, there hasn’t been much worth saving.
The RV had been loaded for the road when the storm hit. Phil planned to head out Wednesday for a bluegrass festival this weekend in Kentucky. He was going to pick up some friends along the way. His clothes were on board. The beds were made. He had a good supply of food and drink. All that stuff is now crumpled in a heap or scattered out across the neighborhood.
Phil, who loves his bluegrass, hadn’t ruled out still making the trip to the festival this weekend. But his buddies will have to supply the camper. As for his own RV, the neighbor’s house marks the end of the road.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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