Storms prompt officials to evacuate park

PLYMOUTH — Saturday night’s severe thunderstorms caused the Blueberry Festival to be shut down about three hours earlier than normal closing time.

According to festival official Larry Faulstich, he and festival director Karen O’Neal made the decision to shut down the festival after a thunderstorm watch changed to a warning at about 6:30 p.m.

The Blueberry Festival security team had been keeping up with weather warnings by watching the three radars placed around the city of Plymouth: one at the command center at the fire department, one in the security trailer at Centennial Park, and one at the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department.

After a severe thunderstorm watch was issued, Faulstich said that an announcement was made over the park’s P.A. system instructing festival-goers to seek appropriate shelter. Attendees made their way to Jefferson Elementary School or one of the pavilions in the park.

After the first wave of the storm passed, the park was evacuated and events for the rest of the night canceled. Canceled events included performances by Joe Diffie, the festival’s headliner, and the band Flipside. Both acts could not reschedule their performances because they had to be in another location the next day, said O’Neal.

Faulstich said that when the decision was made to shut down the festival for the night, All Star Amusement Carnival employees readily agreed — they had been at the Indiana State Fair earlier this summer and were the first section of the fair to shut down on the night of the fatal stage collapse.

O’Neal and Faulstich both said that they could not remember ever having to evacuate the park during the festival before.

Faulstich said that the city of Plymouth had put a disaster plan in place for the festival about five years ago, and the plan was reviewed about a week before activities began this year.

“This plan was put in place long before Indianapolis ever happened,” said Faulstich, “It’s not like we thought of it last week.”

Faulstich also said that while the festival has experienced heavy rainfall in the past, to his knowledge there have never been severe thunderstorms on festival weekend.

“There’s a big difference between lots of rain and an actual thunderstorm warning,” said Faulstich. “Obviously our main concern is that our festival-goers get into a protected area.”

Faulstich also said that the festival rents their entertainment stages from an individual who has a disaster plan of his own. This plan was communicated to festival officials before the weekend began.

Although some were concerned that severe weather would interfere with Sunday night’s fireworks display, Faulstich said Sunday afternoon that he was hopeful for good weather. Temperatures went down to the 50 degree range and stayed there Sunday night and most of Monday. While skies looked gray, the fireworks went off without a hitch and Blueberry Stomp runners and parade participants enjoyed a crisp Labor Day morning.