‘Swirled up’: Photo from tornado-damaged home found 200 km away

When Katie Posten walked outside on Saturday morning to her car parked in her driveway, she saw something that looked like a note or receipt stuck to the windshield.

She grabbed it and saw it was a black and white photo of a woman in a striped sundress and headscarf holding a little boy in her lap.

On the back, written in script, it said, “Gertie Swatzell & J.D. Swatzell 1942.”

The photograph found on Katie Posten’s windshield in New Albany, Indiani, from a tornado-damaged home in Kentucky that landed more than 200 km away in Indiana. Credit:Katie Posten via AP.

A few hours later, Posten would discover that the photo had made quite a journey – 209 kilometres – on the back of monstrous winds.

Posten had been tracking the tornadoes that hit the middle of the US on Friday night, killing dozens of people. They came close to where she lives in New Albany, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.

So she figured it must be debris from someone’s damaged home.

“Seeing the date, I realised that was likely from a home hit by a tornado. How else is it going to be there?” Posten said in a phone interview on Sunday morning. “It’s not a receipt. It’s well-kept photo.”

Dawson Springs, Kentucky on Sunday.Credit:AP

So, doing what any 21st century person would do, she posted an image of the photo on Facebook and Twitter and asked for help in finding its owners. She said she was hoping someone on social media would have a connection to the photo or share it with someone who had a connection.

Sure enough, that’s what happened.

“A lot of people shared it on Facebook. Someone came across it who is friends with a man with the same last name, and they tagged him,” said Posten, 30, who works for a tech company.

That man was Cole Swatzell, who commented that the photo belonged to family members in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, almost 209 kilometres away from New Albany, as the crow flies, and 167 269 kilometres away by car.

Swatzell on Sunday didn’t respond to a Facebook message seeking comment.

In Dawson Springs — a town of about 2700 people 97 kilometres east of Paducah — homes were levelled, trees were splintered and search and rescue teams continued to scour the community for any survivors.

At least 100 people were believed to have been killed in Kentucky alone after the tornadoes tore through the US Midwest and South on Friday night. Six workers were killed at an Amazon.com warehouse in Illinois. A nursing home was struck in Missouri. More than 70,000 people were left without power in Tennessee.

The fact that the photo travelled 200 km is “unusual but not that unusual,” said John Snow, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma.

In one documented case from the 1920s, paper debris travelled 370 km from Missouri into southern Illinois. The paper debris rides winds, sometimes reaching heights of 30,000 (9140 m) to 40,000 feet above the ground, he said.

“It gets swirled up,” Snow said. “The storm dissipates and then everything flutters down to the ground.”

Posten plans to return the photo to the Swatzell family sometime this week.

“It’s really remarkable, definitely one of those things, given all that has happened, that makes you consider how valuable things are — memories, family heirlooms, and those kinds of things,” Posten said.

“It shows you the power of social media for good. It was encouraging that immediately there were tons of replies from people, looking up ancestry records, and saying ‘I know someone who knows someone and I’d like to help.’”

AP, Reuters

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