Although a hog barn on Jeanette and Rusty Merritt’s family farm was hit by a tornado last November, no person or animal was injured. Jeanette and Rusty are pictured with their children Lauryn, 7, Alexandra, 10, and Levi, 3.
Although a hog barn on Jeanette and Rusty Merritt’s family farm was hit by a tornado last November, no person or animal was injured. Jeanette and Rusty are pictured with their children Lauryn, 7, Alexandra, 10, and Levi, 3.
PERU, Ind. — Jeanette Merritt, marketing director of Indiana wines and Purdue University’s wine grape team, was pulling in the driveway of her family farm with her husband, Rusty, and her children when their car was lifted off the ground.

A tornado picked the car up and then “plopped” it back on the ground, Merritt said. The family immediately hurried into the storm cellar.

The date was Nov. 17, 2013, and the tornado was one of several in Indiana that day. The tornado started around the Grissom Air Base in Miami County and then continued to their property and then to another neighboring farmer’s land.

“There was a moment we didn’t know what we should do,” Merritt said. “I know we should not have been driving. I’ve always been told to get out of the car, but when you don’t have a choice, it’s frightening.”

Although the house wasn’t hit by the tornado, the barn was a different story. The roof of the hog barn was “peeled off like a sardine can,” Merritt said.

No animals were hurt, but the barn had to be torn down. Animals were moved until a new barn was built on the same location.

“Once we come out of the cellar, we saw the barn in the field,” Merritt said. “It could have been the house or anything right above us, but it wasn’t. God had his hand in it.”

Merritt said the experience was frightening. Her children, who are ages 10, 7 and 3, hate storms now, she said.

“Having it happen somewhere else is different, but having it at the house with the kids your immediate concern becomes your children’s safety,” she said.

The need to rebuild a barn put the farm six months behind, and about a third of production was lost, Merritt said.

Merritt’s farm is part of Maple Acres, owned by her father and brother and managed by her husband, Rusty. Merritt, a fourth-generation farmer, and her husband, who grew up raising dairy cattle, raise hogs and grow corn, soybeans and wheat, as well.

This wasn’t the first time a natural disaster has hit the farm, Merritt said. About two years ago, a tornado hit a hog barn seven miles away, and about 10 years ago, a tornado went over the house, but didn’t touch down. A barn also was hit by lightning and then burned down.

Merritt advises people to pay close attention to weather, be prepared and watch the sky.

“We have apps on our phones, and our hog barns are set up on a system that we’re notified if we lose power,” she said. “That way, we can provide generators and check on livestock quickly. There are a lot of sleepless nights watching the sky, but it’s worth it to have the warning.”