Emergency crews from around the state banded together to sift through the aftermath.
By Baylee Pulliam–
HENRYVILLE, Ind. – On Sunday morning, the Rev. Steve Schaftlein surveyed the little chapel of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and saw a congregation battered, tired and thankful.
About 150 people came to Mass at the 100-seat church. Without electricity, only votive candles, and sun through the multi-colored stained-glass windows lit the chapel.
He said the church, one of the few buildings left standing after a tornado ripped through Henryville, Ind. Friday, was “spared with a purpose by God – to be a symbol of hope.”
Looking out over the mangled remains of town square, Sophie Knight said it was. “It’s just a blessing that so many people survived,” said Knight, a University of Louisville rower, who caravanned to Henryville Sunday to help in any way she could.
The tornado outbreak came two days after a powerful storm tore through the south and Midwest, killing 13 people.
The latest round, 45 confirmed twisters in all, targeted southern Indiana, the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys and eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian foothills. The death toll rose to 40 on Monday.
In Henryville, Ind., a tornado with an over 50-mile track, brought 175 mile per hour winds and baseball-sized hail. The multi-vortex tornado was ranked an EF-4, the second highest on the Fujita scale of tornadic force.
Within minutes, the town of 2,000 was gone.
Henryville, just 19 miles north of Louisville, is now a twisted remnant of its former self. Mangled debris lines what was once Ferguson Street – hail-battered cars, broken plywood and scrap metal. Most homes have been reduced to a pile of rubble, the owners’ personal belongings unsalvageable.
The windshield of this car was shattered by hail and a school bus was shoved through a local business across the street from the school.
The Clark County town was put under a 6 p.m. curfew and a boil water advisory. Natural gas lines were cut off, and the few structures still standing are running on generators, if they have power at all.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke to reporters Saturday, in front of the now-leveled Henryville High School, whose roof peeled back before collapsing.
“Yet all things that mere mortals can do aren’t enough sometimes,” he said.
Indiana University Southeast student Rachel Horine said her aunt, a special education teacher, bunkered down in the school bathroom when the storm hit. “She barely made it out,” Horine said.
Horine lives four miles away in Borden. But to her, home was Henryville, where she went to school and had friends.
In Borden, Horine and her family locked themselves in the basement as hail pounded their house. She said it was so loud, “it sounded like someone was breaking in.”
In Henryville, St. Francis church is one of the few buildings left standing, surviving the storm less only a chimney and some roof shingles. Since Friday, it has served as an emergency response outpost, food bank and safe haven.
Volunteers sort through donated clothes in the sanctuary of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, Ind. The sanctuary, which has a capacity of 100, was filled with 150 people and clothes on Sunday.
Victor Jett, an 18-year member at St. Francis, organized collections there. “People just keep coming,” he said, stacking cases of bottled water onto a nearly story-high pile. “The level of support is just overwhelming.”
On Sunday, volunteers unloaded dry goods and cleaning supplies in the church’s basement. Upstairs in the chapel, clothing donations layered the pews, labeled like aisles in a department store.
Louisville rowing team member, Hannah Ritter, sorts through the mountains of donations at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Henryville, Ind.
Hannah Ritter sat in the pulpit Sunday, folding children’s pants and socks.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. People are giving so much,” said the sophomore CIS major, a volunteer with the rowing team.
By nightfall, a tag-team of good Samaritans had packed every room with donations.
Knight, a freshman marketing major, hopes people keep coming. “Henryville is gone, but we shouldn’t forget there are people here who need help,” she said.
Major Chuck Adams from the Clark County Sheriff’s office said he spoke with a woman from Dayton, Ohio, who drove down and asked how she could help. Others hail from as far away as West Virginia and New York.
“The sense of good will here is just incredible,” he said on Sunday, flagging cars in the St. Francis parking lot.
The sheriff’s office is temporarily based at the church, and has had every employee working in some capacity since Friday. “We’ve pretty much been flying by the seat of our pants,” Adams said. “But 36 hours in, I think we’re doing as well as anyone could.”
In southern Indiana, upwards of 250 National Guardsmen and 100 Indiana State Police officers were deployed over the weekend, to aid local law enforcement and emergency response services in search and rescue pursuits. National Guardsmen piloted black hawk helicopters, on loan from Shelbyville, in aerial search missions.
Adams said Sunday the sheriff’s office had stopped searching, and no one was unaccounted for.
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security reported significant numbers of injuries, but that medical services were not overwhelmed.
The church basement was a meeting place on Friday after the tornado hit Henryville.Less than 24 hours later, it had been transformed into a donation center.
Less than 24 hours later, it had been transformed into a donation center.
In the wake of the disaster, making contact with loved ones inside the affected communities was nearly impossible, complicated by the destruction of most cell towers in hard hit communities like Borden and Marysville.
For Tori Robbins, a sophomore undecided major at U of L, it was a waiting game. She tried calling a friend in New Perkin, a heavily damaged Washington County town, but couldn’t get through.
“I felt so helpless,” she said. Robbins’ friend’s house was one of only four houses on her street left standing.
The American Red Cross said volunteers in southern Indiana delivered food, provided emotional support and checked in on people who had been out of contact.
Over at the church, donations and volunteers keep pouring in – a sign, Rev. Schaftlein says, that they shouldn’t lose faith.
“We’re praying here, that’s our first work,” he told his congregation. “But underneath is the food, the clothing that will help sustain the community.”
As night fell Sunday, snowflakes peppered the rubble that was once Henryville. Volunteers still working at St. Francis, warmed their hands at the portable heaters outside.
While the past few days have been hard, Jett says the true test will come in the days ahead.
“A lot of these people lost everything, down to the foundation,” he said. “But we’ll rebuild. No doubt in my mind, we’ll rebuild.”
This is the view facing west from just east of Highway 31 in downtown Henryville. The tornado, which was categorized as an EF-4, flattened the town with 175 mph winds and baseball-sized hail.
HOW TO HELP
With the recent hardships bought about by the tornado, those living in the affected and surrounding areas are in need of assistance. In an effort to support these communities, charities and organizations such as the Red Cross are looking for cash donations, dry goods and helping hands. Students from the University of Louisville are also looking to put together an alternative spring break group to head to Henreyville and provide services to those who need it. For more information, log on to the official Red Cross website, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can donate $10 to the Red Cross by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999. If you know of any U of L employees affected by the storm, email EmployeeRelations@Louisville.edu, or for students, contact the Dean of Students Office at 852-5787 or via email at email@example.com.
Email Editor-in-Chief Baylee Pulliam at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Nathan Gardner/The Louisville Cardinal, email@example.com