News and Tribune

March 1, 2014

2 YEARS AFTER THE TORNADO: It’s been a long climb back for Southern Indiana communities

By MATT KOESTERS
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

HENRYVILLE — June 28, 2013, is an important date for Henryville residents.

It’s not a date that many of them will remember. It’s not a date like March 2, 2012, a day that the whole of Henryville, Marysville and Pekin will never forget. But it’s an important date nonetheless, because June 28, 2013, is the day that Goodfellas Pizza finally reopened, 15 months after the tornadoes that ravaged Southern Indiana tore the roof off the restaurant and shifted the foundation of the eastern side of the structure.

The reopening of a pizza joint after a lengthy hiatus may not catch the type of attention Goodfellas did in a larger community. But that weekend was about far more than pizza in Henryville. It was about the broken heart of a community finally being restored.

“This is a gathering place,” said owner Samantha Abbott. “On Sunday mornings for breakfast, this restaurant is full. It’s full of families. People stop and eat, and they visit for one or two hours. They don’t just come and eat and leave.

“They call it the heart of Henryville.”

Goodfellas reopening almost didn’t happen. The first anniversary of the March 2, 2012, tornadoes came and went without any sign of the pizzeria getting back off the mat. Building code regulations called for big changes from the original structure. But once the Abbott family was through navigating the legal process to get the building approved, Goodfellas went from nothing to fully operational in 14 weeks.

Abbott didn’t know what to expect on opening weekend. It turns out, she should have known better.

“It was crazy,” Abbott recalled. “I think everybody ordered a pizza that day. It was awesome, because I never thought we would be that busy. But everyone came from everywhere to support us.”

The reopening of Goodfellas was a milestone in the town’s recovery from the tornadoes, said Henryville Elementary School Principal Glenn Riggs.

“It’s one of the mainstays,” Riggs said. “It’s indeed something that’s important to the town, to see it come back and have that luscious pizza.”

Riggs has been a first-hand witness to the recovery effort in Henryville, one that’s ongoing, evidenced by the homes and businesses that are still being rebuilt. Trees that were uprooted two years ago still lay on the hillsides where they once stood before the tornadoes — one an EF-4 — came through.

“I think that the town is very much in the recovery mode, still to this date,” Riggs said. “Even as you go and view around the immediate town of Henryville and the surrounding areas, you still see houses both under construction, beginning construction and still under the infamous blue tarps throughout our territory. I know all of my children are still impacted very much still, two years later.”

Not everyone in Henryville was fortunate enough to have 24-7 construction crews at work helping to rebuild what they had lost, as the schools did.

The children have been able to move on better than some of the adults, who have bigger problems to deal with, Riggs said. He noted that a member of his staff was finally able to move into his new home Wednesday, nearly two years after his previous house was destroyed.

“The reality of what is happening with the majority of the folks in the territory is a little longer-term deal,” Riggs said.



LINGERING ANGER

Nick Shelton, owner of Henryville Auto Service LLC & Towing, wasn’t able to get his business reopened until April 2013, more than a year after the storm flattened his building along U.S. 31. Shelton faults the county and state governments for the amount of time it took for him to get his shop back in business.

“Bureaucracy at the state, FEMA, Red Cross, and all them said they were here to help. They didn’t hardly help anybody,” Shelton said. “They were useless. The hoops and hurdles that the state and county governments made us jump through was absolutely ridiculous. It made it cost more money, and in a situation like that when something like that happens, they need to go back in and they need to have somebody in charge.”

Shelton said he was finally able to get in touch with someone with the ability to help him with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Had he not, the business might not have made it, he said.

“It almost shut me down,” he said.

 

MARYSVILLE

In the days immediately following the tornadoes, Marysville Hardware served as a staging ground for the recovery effort in the unincorporated town. Owner J.R. Righthouse said he knows how lucky he is that the business his family has operated for more than a century wasn’t leveled.

“It was basically most of the town that was wiped away,” Righthouse said. “Part of it’s come back, and part of it hasn’t.”

The recovery is ongoing in Marysville, much as it is in Henryville. Today, the town will celebrate the rededication of its community center, thanks in part to the efforts of March2Recovery.

With the second anniversary of the tornadoes on Sunday, March2Recovery Executive Director Carolyn King believes that the physical effort to repair the damage that the storms left behind is coming to a close.

“I think [the affected communities] are pretty ready to move on,” King said. “The anniversary time will be difficult for people, particularly those that were directly hit, for years to come. People still talk about the 1973 tornado. If you were in that path, that’s still important. But I see people back into their homes.”

King sees the reopening of the Marysville Community Center as a milestone in the recovery effort.

“I think that’s kind of the last symbolic thing to open,” King said. “That community was so devastated that it’s very symbolic to them to have it restored.”



IT TAKES TIME

Though the physical recovery effort may be winding down or complete for many of the families and businesses affected by the tornadoes of two years ago, the healing process in Henryville and Marysville still has a long way to go.

“I’d say it’s still going — if not physically, mentally for sure,” Shelton said. “[The town] may never recover from that.”

Righthouse sees something similar in Marysville, he said.

“We’ve got people that to this point still haven’t been able to fully accept it,” Righthouse said. “It’s still a mental strain for them to go back and see where their house was blown away.”

Abbott agreed that the recovery of the communities needs more time, as the memories of two years ago still weigh heavily on residents’ minds.

“There’s lots of healing [to be done]. Every day is a new day for everyone in this town, but a lot of people are emotionally destroyed by it,” Abbott said. “We think about it every day.

“But the town is so much better than what it was before. We have a lot of people say that, but the town has grown closer. This is a small community. Everyone sticks together. But it definitely took a toll on people’s lives.”