- An Indiana family piled into a small bathroom last month to weather an incoming storm.
- After the tornado tore through, the hallway bathroom was the only room left standing.
- Jake Hill spoke to Insider about his family’s harrowing ordeal.
Jake Hill was at work on the evening of March 31, ignoring his mother’s panicked calls as a 138 mph tornado rapidly rushed toward his hometown of Spencer, Indiana.
Hill and his family were well acquainted with tornado warnings as longtime residents of the midwest, where twister storms frequently appear with minimal warning, wrecking major damage.
“You always hear about tornado warnings here, but you never think it’s going to actually happen to you,” Hill, 20, told Insider.
But late last month, the unthinkable struck Hill and his family when a series of 10 tornadoes whipped across Indiana on the night of March 31, part of a larger collection of storms that slammed the midwest and the south leaving at least 32 people dead and several more injured.
Hill had just finished a serving shift that night and began his drive home, still brushing off his mother’s anxious calls around 10:30 p.m. He didn’t know it then, but he would beat the tornado to his front door by only moments.
As he reached his property and got out of his car, Hill said he saw nearby power lines spark, sending the street into darkness. A transformer exploded nearby as the ongoing winds picked up dangerous speed, he told Insider, prompting him to rush inside.
“I was just working off of adrenaline,” Hill said.
The next few minutes are still a blur. Hill said he remembers the winds getting louder and louder. He heard someone in his family shout, telling everyone in the house to get into the bathroom. Hill, along with his mom, brother, grandma, grandpa, godmother, and dog, Rigsby, piled into the tiny bathroom.
—Erin Snodgrass (@erinsnod) April 11, 2023
“That’s always been the place we talked about going because we don’t have a basement,” Hill said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no “completely safe” place to shelter during a tornado, due to flying debris. But some places are more optimal than others, the agency has said, including basements, hallways, closets, and other rooms without windows on low floors.
Hill’s family had sheltered in their bathroom during previous tornado warnings that ultimately amounted to nothing.
This time, the carnage began just moments after everyone reached the relative safety of the restroom.
“We had the drywall ceiling start falling on us,” Hill said. “I could hear windows shattering. I felt the drywall fall and I started breathing in insulation and dust.”
When all was said and done, Hill was lying on the ground, unsure if he had been knocked unconscious in the chaos. He said he wasn’t entirely sure how long the ordeal had lasted, but members of his family later said the storm passed through in about 45 seconds.
Hill immediately checked to see if his grandmother, who was in the bathtub, was okay. Miraculously, he said, none of the six were injured. The family had to push their way out of the bathroom due to a wall that had fallen against the entrance during the tornado. Hill’s grandpa and brother pushed the wall over, trying to find a way out for the frightened family.
The only four complete walls left standing in the entire home belonged to the bathroom where the family had sought refuge, Hill said. The storm had decimated the house, leaving little left salvageable.
“We didn’t have a roof after the fact,” Hill said. “Emerging, it was heartbreaking. It was emotional. It was really scary.”
Since the storm was still going on, there was also “nowhere to go, no one to call,” he added.
—Erin Snodgrass (@erinsnod) April 11, 2023
The family’s few nearby neighbors suffered similar fates, including Hill’s grandparents’ mobile home down the road, which wound up acres away, blown off by the storm, he said.
Despite the devastation, Hill said he and his family have been overwhelmed with the community support they’ve received in the weeks since the storm. This past weekend, more than 100 volunteers came to help the family clean up their property, he said.
“In the end, we’re all very grateful to have each other,” Hill told Insider. “It’s just material things. They can be replaced.”
The family is staying with friends for now, hoping to eventually rebuild on their property, which has been in the family for nearly 100 years, Hill said.
As he reflected on the emotional experience, Hill said he was beyond grateful for his family’s health and the community support, but most of all, for the bathroom that saved them.
“Whoever said to get in the bathroom, if we didn’t listen to that, probably a few of us wouldn’t have made it,” he added.