By GARY POPP
HENRYVILLE — Shaan Sangh put one hand in front of the other as he crawled from the wreckage of the Marathon gas station and adjoining Subway restaurant.
After nearly 10 seconds of lying motionless in the rubble as the world whirled above him, the operator and lease-holder of the business found his arms and face covered in blood. Three of the building’s walls were destroyed, and its roof was gone — swept away by the massive EF-4 tornado on March 2, 2012.
The winds subsided, the temperature dropped and softball-sized hail began to fall from the clouds as Sangh raised himself up and went to check on the welfare of the nine people who took shelter in his business.
“It is a day I will never forget,” Sangh said nearly a year later while standing inside the Subway portion of the newly rebuilt and sparkling clean building.
Sangh, a native of India, opened the dual business three years before the tornado. The structure sits on top of a hill, directly off the interstate and looks down upon the community’s school buildings.
It had been a typical Friday afternoon at the business until about 3:15 p.m., as Sangh and other employees watched in awe as a massive funnel cloud formed in the sky and winds began to grow in force.
Sangh said regular customers, those who had sought refuge from the open interstate and employees gathered in his business as it became evident the storm was going to hit in the area.
“Some people were in the mechanical room, others were in the bathroom and under the [Subway] prep table,” Sangh said.
He took action by turning off the building’s lights and locking its doors.
After everyone had taken shelter, Sangh and another employee stood behind a large window in the restaurant area. He said as he looked outside he saw trash cans floating in the wind like discarded paper. A moment later, Sangh was struck by an unknown object that pushed him back nearly 15 feet to the counter of the sandwich shop.
“It hit me so fast,” Sangh said of the forceful blow. “It is hard to tell you what happened after that. I felt so helpless.”
Sangh wasn’t too helpless, however, to collect himself and quickly give aid to those also buried beneath the flattened building. After finding no one was seriously injured, Sangh said he dialed 911, but phone lines were not working.
As he and others waited for nearly 20 minutes for the arrival of first responders, Sangh saw a semitruck truck resting vertically on the rear of the property. He and another employee, who suffered deep cuts to his arm, were both taken to Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Department where they were treated before being taken to area hospitals.
While at the fire station, Sangh said he saw one tornado victim lying unconscious and another had a broken arm caused by the falling hail. He was released the following day from Clark Memorial Hospital, but pain and numbness in his back would require he go into surgery weeks later for a herniated disk. Over the next year, Sangh said he had to put his personal recovery above that of his business.
“It was a tough time. Mentally, financially, physically — it has been a tough year,” he said.
Despite suffering from continuing numbness in one of his feet, Sangh said he feels very fortunate that he and his business have almost fully recovered.
“I don’t know how we made it,” Sangh said. “God was with us.”
After reopening the gas station and Subway in February, Sangh is glad to be part of the revitalizing community.
“I am so happy. My employees are happy. The people are happy,” he said. “I need the people and they need me.”
Sangh said he has seen community members and business return to Henryville. Since reopening, he said he has received hugs and praises from his customers who are happy to see the gas station and restaurant returned to the community.
Customer Kenny Frakes, of Henryville, said it is comforting to see businesses coming back to life in the area.
“It’s a small town, without too much business,” Frakes said. “It was pitiful right afterward. I’m glad to see businesses coming back.”
Gearldine Cherry, also of Henryville, said she is thankful Sangh’s business has reopened because it makes her life more convenient.
“I’m glad,” Cherry said. “I felt it took a long time to get stuff back, but I’m glad to see businesses coming back.”