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March 10, 2012

Officers faced danger in responding to tornadoes

One ISP trooper’s ID badge was found in Cincinnati

HENRYVILLE — When he was rushing to the scene of the Henryville tornado in the first wave of the state law enforcement response, 1st Sgt. Jamey Noel of the Indiana State Police didn’t realize how the devastation would personally touch both his personal and professional life.

But after just more than a week since the devastating tornadoes, things have started to become all to clear to Noel. Not only had his wife’s family, who live in the town and the surrounding countryside, suffered property damage, several of his fellow troopers had suffered injuries and hardships from the twister as well.

“My in-laws and my wife’s aunt and uncle had heavy damage to their houses and their vehicles. Her brother had some damage. My wife’s other uncle lost his home altogether and his cars. They’ll have to tear the house down,” Noel said. “Thank goodness none of them were hurt.”

In addition to his extended family, several local law enforcement officers also sustained damage. Noel said Trooper Martin Whip had heard of the deadly storm coming toward his Henryville home that Friday. In preparation, Whip switched into his uniform and started walking toward the basement of his home.

Strangely, his ears started popping. According to Noel, the next thing the trooper remembered was waking in his basement, the rest of his house having been blown away. After a brief stint in the hospital for treatment of a broken right shoulder and numerous lacerations, Whip has since been released.

“I’ll give you a little idea about how bad that storm was,” Noel said. “Our trooper that was in the hospital, they recovered his ID east of Cincinnati.”

Noel experienced a harrowing incident of his own when he responded to the disaster. A second tornado destroyed numerous ISP cars that were racing up the Interstate in reply to the first and strongest funnel cloud. At the Henryville exit, several officers encountered another one.

“We responded to the first tornado. Then the second one came through about 10 minutes behind it. That’s what took out all the cars. We have 14 cars that are not [operational],” Noel said.

During the second tornado, Noel witnessed a fellow trooper blow off the Interstate directly in front of him. Then the baseball-sized hail began to rain down.

“I flew off the Interstate, but I didn’t hit anything. I was just on the edge of the road,” Noel said. “About that time, the hail started and blew out my windshield. Just the shock of the glass blowing out on you is pretty hard.”

“But it’s nothing like what these people went through who were in the direct path of them,” he said.

Maj. Chuck Adams of the Clark County Sheriff’s Department also said their law enforcement family has faced heartbreak from the tornadoes. One deputy who lived by Henryville High School suffered more than $50,000 worth of damages. A county correctional officer who lived in Nabb lost her entire home. He said at least six of his officers lived about five miles from catastrophe.

Getting information out to the media about the tornadoes this past week, Adams has been quoted about the event in newspapers and magazine as far away as Australia, Thailand, India and China. He said in 30 years of law enforcement, he’s never seen anything like the damage in the northern part of the county.

“It’s amazing. I’ve never seen such damage and devastation like we have here,” Adams said. “But in turn, I’ve never seen such good people come together. It’s just great

“I’ve lived here all my life,” he continued. “It’s just touching to see people who don’t know anybody who want to volunteer and help out. It’s beautiful.”

Looking to the future, Adams said he and his fellow officers are committed to helping the area recover for the long haul.

“The sheriff’s office will be here as long as we’re needed,” he said.

Noel agreed.

“As police officers, we do everything from taking food and water to helping in police matters to directing traffic,” Noel said. “Right now, everyone wants things to return to normal. So we’re trying to get everything back to normal as fast as we can.”

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