People are at the heart of Henryville's recovery
By now, most people have seen the pictures of the tornado damage in Henryville. The pictures are heart-breaking, but they only tell part of the story. The heart of the matter is the heart of the people in the tornado's path.
The fact that it was no average spring storm is apparent as soon as you hit the exit for State Road 160 on Interstate 65. What used to be a truck stop on the east side of the highway now looks like a junk yard with twisted vehicles piled on top of one another. The exit sign is twisted into submission and lying by the side of the road. Police are standing watch, careful who they let travel the 1/2 mile east into Henryville. Their first thought was to limit passage to only those with a local address, but then police backed off of that idea, so as not to keep away friends and relatives wanting to come help their own in this time of need.
When you move down the road toward the center of town, buildings on both sides of the street are torn to shreds. One of the two gas stations is open and selling gas. The other will need work done to clear the path to the pumps that reach the underground tanks.
At the main intersection in town, you can look in any direction and see a lack of trees, or rather, trees uprooted and laid down by the sheer force of the wind. Piles of rubble used to be homes, churches, and businesses. Major Chuck Adams of the Clark County Sheriff's Department told me that he has been on the force since 1981 and is seeing things in Henryville that he has never seen before, because "there are no trees to block the view - it's like I am in a new town."
Make no mistake, after they work through the damage that nature has visited upon them, Henryville WILL be a new town. Very little of what was there last week is salvageable, but something that I suspect won't change is the spirit folks who call it home.
Victor Jett is one of them. He's retired. A parishioner at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. His church is the last one standing in Henryville, so it became the place where people brought donations - of food, water, diapers, medicine, cleaning supplies, and clothes. It was piling up so fast, that someone needed to step in an organize. That was Victor, who marshaled the forces of his church, set up tables in the basement and categorized the items so people who needed them could come in for pick-up, no questions asked.
"One woman hugged me so hard, I thought she was going to snap my neck," he laughed. "But this is what it is here for. This doesn't end tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. We will be here for as long as people in town need our help".
Like any small Indiana town, the people who live here like the slower pace. Everyone knows each other. They pitch in to help where they can. So, as Henryville is rebuilt in the coming months and years, it will look like a different place (and not just because new trees will replace the ones torn from the ground) - but, at it's heart, many things will probably not change.
When a church is destroyed, pastors always say that they may have lost a building, but the "church" is its people. Same with a town. The people of Henryville have been knocked down, some losing everything they owned, but when they come back, they will come back better, stronger, with a story to tell their grandchildren. How they, and their town, got through the great storm of 2012 - with more resolve then before.
They will have the scars to prove it.