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Indiana woman, 73, dies saving her great-grandson during derecho

An Indiana family said their great-grandmother died shielding her four-year-old great-grandson when a powerful storm known as a derecho swept through the region on Monday, destroying their mobile home. 

Isabel Atencio, 73, from Fort Wayne, was found still clutching her great-grandson Chase under a huge pile of rubble. Firefighters and emergency services rushed her to hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The toddler escaped with only minor injuries. 


‘It’s awful. I was thinking about that all last night,’ Adam O’Connor, deputy chief of the Fort Wayne Fire Department, said of the grandmother’s death. 

An autopsy performed by the Allen County Coroner’s office found Atencio died of blunt force injuries and her death was ruled accidental.

At around 7.45pm on Monday, 911 calls came in reporting heavy damage to a mobile home in the 4300 block of Brimstone Road. Callers said there were possibly people trapped inside the overturned trailer. 

Kaylee Shaw, Atencio’s granddaughter and Chase’s mother, told WANE-TV that she ran to the scene, knowing that her son was inside at the time. 

When firefigthters first arrived, they had to deal with a major gas leak and secure exposed power lines before attempting to reach the victims inside the collpased trailer. 

Within less than 15 minutes, they pulled Atencio’s great-grandson from the rubble. He was conscious and in good condition. 

A short time later, they freed Atencio who was unconscious and in critical condition. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead from her injuries.  

‘She is definitely my hero,’ Shaw said of her grandmother in an interview with WPTA21. ‘She earned her wings for sure last night. I’m very grateful and thankful for her.’ 

Atencio’s other granddaughter, Selena Montoya, said that looking at her grandmother’s ravaged home, it is hard to believe that anyone had made it out alive. 

‘She always promised that she would protect us and keep us safe and she sure did last night,’ said Montoya. 

Atencio had lived at the mobile home park for 17 years. Her neighbor described her as a kind-hearted person who was loved by all who knew her. 

‘She would do anything for you, and I’m really at a loss for words right now because already I miss her so much,’ said Marsha Pond.  

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help Atencio’s family pay for her funeral. 

Atencio was one of two people who were killed during Monday’s rare derecho storm, which left hundreds of thousands across the Midwest without power and caused widespread damage to millions of acres of crops.

The storm had winds of up to 112mph near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as powerful as a hurricane, as it tore from eastern Nebraska across Iowa and into Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, blowing over trees, flipping vehicles and causing damage to property and crops. 

The storm left downed trees and power lines that blocked roadways in Chicago and its suburbs. After leaving Chicago, the most potent part of the storm system moved over north central Indiana.

A derecho is not quite a hurricane. It has no eye, and its winds come across in a line. But the damage it is likely to do spread over such a large area is more like an inland hurricane than a quick more powerful tornado, according to Patrick Marsh, science support chief at the National Weather Service´s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

The storm began as separate thunderstorms in South Dakota before strengthening over Iowa. It held together for 770 miles over 14 hours before losing strength as it entered Western Ohio, Iowa State Climatologist Justin Glisan said. By the time the system reached Des Moines, wind gusts were clocked at more than 100mph.

The National Weather Service said the storm also spawned seven tornadoes in the Chicago metropolitan area. 

Iowa officials reported roofs torn off homes and buildings, vehicles blown off roads and hit by trees, and people hurt by flying debris. One death and dozens of injuries were reported in the state.

A 63-year-old bicyclist died after he was struck by one of several large trees that fell Monday on a bike trail outside of Cedar Rapids near Ely, the Linn County sheriff´s office said. 

Thomas Rowland, of Solon, Iowa, suffered extensive injuries and died at the scene, the office said.

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