It would be an agonizing half an hour before he would be able to reach his parents again. The EF-4 tornado that struck Henryville knocked out cell phone service in the town, and Heil could only imagine what his family was going through, as well as the rest of his hometown.
All the while, Heil remained at his post, broadcasting news about the storm to viewers.
“I’m not that old, but that’s about as tough as it gets,” he said.
Heil has an aunt and uncle that live in Pekin, and they sent him a cell phone picture of the tornado that struck their town. Heil knew the same system was pounding Henryville, and the moments passed by like years until his family finally called to let him know they were alive.
Though their house was still intact, Heil’s parents lost several farm buildings during the storm.
“Even after I knew they were OK, I didn’t know what I was coming home to for quite awhile,” Heil said.
At about 4:45 p.m. that day, pictures taken from the WLKY helicopter arrived back at the station. Heil began to see the ravaged buildings and felled trees the tornado had consumed, as businesses that he had driven by just that morning were now flattened.
Just a few weeks earlier, Heil had spoken to children at Henryville Elementary School about severe weather safety — the same structure that became the victim of the monstrous tornado.
Understandably, Heil said it wasn’t always easy to keep his calm while he was on air that day. There were times that Heil’s voice lost its reassurance, but he pressed on despite the worry and fear that were in his heart. He wasn’t a first responder or emergency medic, but Heil’s contributions to the weather forecasts that day helped alert viewers of the pending danger.
“I felt like I was in the right place,” Heil said. “It was a hell of an opportunity for me to be able to help keep my community safe.”