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Evansville
Thursday, May 30, 2024

Like a War Zone

Storm damage wreaks havoc on Evansville Wartime Museum and across Southwestern Indiana.

The Evansville Wartime Museum, off U.S. 41 on the city’s north side, is closed for the foreseeable future and its busy events calendar is paused after being hit hard by a powerful pre-dawn storm on April 2.

A memorial to the region’s contributions to World War II and other global conflicts, the museum saw more than 30 percent of its roof ripped to shreds. The storm damaged hangar doors, discombobulated cased exhibits, and left flags hanging from the walls wet and disheveled.

One of the most prized museum attractions, a P-47 Thunderbolt named Hoosier Spirit II, didn’t come out unscathed. A wind gust packed enough punch to push a Vietnam-era military vehicle parked outside the museum into and through a hangar wall, where it clipped the P-47’s wing.

Hoosier Spirit II arrived at the museum to much fanfare in October 2020, and it was a return home. Once known as Tarheel Hal, the P-47 was one of the more than 6,200 such planes manufactured at Evansville’s Republic Aviation during World War II.

A symbol for all planes produced in the city, Hoosier Spirit II was named Indiana’s Official State Aircraft in 2021.

Damage to the airplane’s wing is not expected to ground it permanently — this was a machine built for war, after all. The wing might need to be removed to be fixed, but “it is repairable,” says Mike Tiemann, president of the Evansville Wartime Museum board.

Two other large military machines in the museum, a Boeing-Stearman biplane and a Sherman tank known as Rosie’s Revenge, were not damaged. Those exhibits and other museum artifacts have been moved to other spaces with a roof overhead.

“We are still assessing what kind of damage we have. Most of our collection is in good shape and will just need to be cleaned up,” Tiemann said Tuesday, and a post on the museum’s Facebook page on Thursday maintained that optimistic outlook.

“Water damage is an issue but so far we have seen very minimal damage to the artifacts,” the post reads. “Aircraft and vehicles have been moved to safer places and fingers crossed, we hope to have things restored and back to normal later this summer.”

The museum’s hangar is owned by Evansville Regional Airport, while artifacts and contents are owned by the museum and by the Evansville P-47 Foundation. All of those entities have insurance, Tiemann says.

The museum’s Facebook post thanked the community for its well-wishes and offers of assistance, but it says access to the facility is restricted for now because of safety concerns.

Information about how to donate to the museum is on its Facebook page.

“We know many would like to physically assist with clean up and repair but currently it’s just not safe to have a number of people around,” the post says. “We will announce those needs later on and appreciate all the outpouring for help.

“For now we continue to be humbled and amazed at how giving and strong our community is. When WWII broke out the community came together to make countless contributions for victory and this spirit lives on today.”

Widespread damage

A line of April 2 storms, which included tornadoes confirmed by the National Weather Service, spared the Tri-State region fatalities and reported serious injuries, but it caused school cancelations and business closings and scattered home and property damage throughout multiple communities. The first line swept through Southwestern Indiana in Posey county just after 5 a.m. Tuesday, while an afternoon storm front roared over central Evansville early that afternoon.

The weather service says the storm brought “78 miles of confirmed tornado track” and several areas where straight-line winds reached 70-90 mph.

Municipal crews worked to clear downed trees, limbs, and debris from major roadways. CenterPoint Energy reported on April 5 that fewer than 300 customers remained without power; the number peaked at about 24,000 after the storm.

Damage to the utility’s power grid includes about 150 confirmed downed poles, says Noah Stubbs, lead communication specialist with CenterPoint.

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