HENRYVILLE — It didn’t take long for the flood of volunteers to make their way into Henryville, Marysville, Borden, Pekin and surrounding areas last March.
The outpouring of support from organizations like the United Way, March2Recovery and the Red Cross was immediate, but six months after the tornadoes that struck March 2, 2012, the bulk of volunteers had gone. Many organizations maintained a presence through area churches and March2Recovery, which was a collective organization that formed to help coordinate the myriad volunteer efforts.
Within a day of the deadly EF-4 tornado, a team was organized to run a 115,000-square-foot warehouse at River Ridge Commerce Center that was set up as a collection and distribution site for various items by the Adventist Community Services Disaster Response team.
The warehouse served as a collection point for donations; the items were collected and sorted and then shipped out when communities notified the group what was needed at various distribution points throughout Northern Clark County.
Joyce Blake, who served as warehouse manager for Adventist Community Services Disaster Response, said the warehouse was running two trucks full of items each day to the area locations. After three months of running the warehouse, Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster took over the operation. And in June, Clark County took the remaining items and housed them in a different warehouse.
“We would have stayed probably longer, but the people who let us use the space were anxious to sell it or lease it,” Blake said.
Former Clark County Commissioner Les Young said when the county moved the remaining donations out of the space, the majority of items that remained were items for babies. The warehouse was moved once more and has since closed.
“We kept that going until around November,” Young said. “The only remaining item was water, which was given to the Red Cross.”
Even with the closure of the warehouse, collection-site donations that were received after the fact, including money, were distributed to needy families. But another obstacle prevented the volunteers that had collected a warehouse full of donations from getting them to who was in need.
“We did all that we could do,” Blake said. “However, so many people were wiped out they had nowhere to put stuff. They were going to need it later on.”
Later on still has not arrived for some families affected by the tornadoes, but it’s getting close.
Kaitlyn Roper, her boyfriend Jeff Johnson and their family are waiting for a new trailer to be finished so they can move back in. When the tornadoes came through Henryville on the afternoon of March 2, Roper said neither she nor Johnson were in the couple’s trailer off of Vest Road. She said they were at a friend’s house and her stepdaughter Auna, 9, was at school.
“That was kind of nerve-wracking,” she said of waiting to hear that everyone was OK.
When the couple went back out to the trailer after the storms, they found holes in the roof from the large hail that preceded and followed the tornadoes and water damage in the trailer.
“It was a little stressful and we didn’t have anywhere to go,” Roper said.
March2Recovery was able to step in and get the family, —which has since seen the addition of another member, 1-month-old Brantley — into a temporary home.
Roper said March2Recovery has found a new trailer for the family and they’re waiting for it to be finished. In addition, they were able to set the family up with baby clothes and a crib, and they received a donation of $1,100 from an Amish community in Ohio.
“They’ve been great,” Roper said of the volunteers an donors. “They’ve helped us out a lot.”
She added that she is really excited to get back into their home on Vest Road, which is expected to be complete in a few weeks.
CAMPING OUT IN THE COOP
Roper and Johnson weren’t the only residents in the area to benefit from a donor.
Randy Blevins said he and his wife, Hannah, were the recipients of a new modular home from an anonymous donor. The Otisco residents, who live off of Zollman Road, said their mobile home was destroyed during the tornado. Blevins said he was taking his wife to work when the tornado hit. He was trying to get back to their home and to their 25-year-old son, Daniel, who was inside. As he raced home, Blevins said he saw a tornado along Interstate 65 in Memphis.
“When I rounded the curve by the post office ... it lifted the truck up three times,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Thankfully, when Blevins did arrive home and the tornado had passed, no one was hurt. The Blevins’ home, however, had not fared so well.
“The backside of my house was all torn up, the windows were knocked out and there were holes in the roof,” Blevins said.
The holes left by the hail that accompanied the destructive tornadoes were about 5 inches in diameter.
With their home destroyed, Blevins decided to move his family into a unique location.
“We moved into the chicken coop,” he said.
Blevins said he had help from Rev. Toby Jenkins of the First Baptist Church Henryville, who paid to have to electricity run to the chicken coop. It was also cleaned up, insulated and walls were put up in the structure.
“We got something his family and he could live in and get him out of that mold,” Jenkins said.
The family lived in the chicken coop until December, when a trailer that was donated had been renovated.
“March2Recovery has been really good to us,” he said. “They’re still asking us if we need anything. They still want to help us.”
But Blevins is hesitant to take any assistance now.
“It would be just my wants,” he said. “I’m not in need of anything.”
He added that there were others in the area that were still in need.
During the initial recovery efforts, even with their home having received major damage, Blevins and his wife helped out at a kitchen set up on Henryville-Otisco Road that was feeding residents and volunteers helping with tornado cleanup.
“The people needed help,” Blevins said. “So we kind of put our needs ... on the back burner because there were people affected a lot worse than we were.”
TAKING CARE OF THEIR OWN
Kathy O’Day, case manager supervisor with March2Recovery, said one of the major driving forces in the recovery effort had been the area’s churches.
“We have so many different churches that are adopting our families,” she said. “We’ve been getting the needs met by the volunteers.”
Jenkins said the bulk of his church’s outreach efforts were limited to the church itself and its related congregations. He explained that instead of connecting into the system, the church wanted to remain independent in order to spread gospel as part of its aid.
“I didn’t link up with a lot of organizations,” he said.
However, the church still partnered with groups like March2Recovery and the United Way during the cleanup. The bulk of the church’s aid came from Southern Baptist Convention churches, and its mission teams were in Henryville as quickly as the day after the tornado, Jenkins said. The Southern Baptist Convention has a disaster-relief team in every state, and initially a lot of money from the Southern Baptist Convention and the Monroe Township Trustee went into replacing damaged windshields.
During the course of the recovery, Jenkins said thousands of volunteers came through the organization — up to 200 to 300 volunteers per day at its peak. While there was tremendous support in the wake of the disaster, there are still needs in the areas affected by the tornado a year ago.
“The major disaster relief is over, but we’re still doing smaller things,” Jenkins said.
He said there was a recent call to shingle a roof, and O’Day added that there is a definitive need for skilled workers like carpenters and builders.
But it’s not just structures people need help rebuilding.
“I think there’s a lot of need for, you might call it counseling,” Blevins said. “I think we’re moving along pretty good. Lives and families [are] coming back together.”
OBSTACLES TO RECOVERY
Even with the generally positive response related to the outreach, it wasn’t without its problems.
“A lot prevented us from doing the job we wanted to do.” Blake said.
She explained that there were obstacles to rebuilding related to zoning laws that slowed or stopped the process in some places.
“There’s a lot of promises made to people out here and they were broken,” Blevins said.
He explained people were promised homes and the outreach organizations have yet to deliver on the promise. He would not say which organization had made those promises.
Part of the willingness of others to promise assistance is part of the reason Jenkins said his church wanted to maintain its independence.
“[We] didn’t want to promise something we couldn’t deliver,” he said.
He added that there is still a lot more to do and in speaking with others who have been part of recovery efforts, it usually takes about two years to recover from something like this.
But Blevins said for some it takes much longer.
“I don’t guess a person really get[s] back what they lost,” he said.