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March 1, 2014

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

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.

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Students of Ms. Kitzmiller's first grade class sing and dance in the gymnasium at Grant Line Elementary before heading to their classroom to begin the school year Thursday morning in New Albany.

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