By JEROD CLAPP
HENRYVILLE — Flashing red and blue lights accompanied wailing sirens down U.S. 31 on Saturday.
But unlike a year ago when hundreds were scrambling for any help they could get, Henryville residents were celebrating a year of recovery with a parade after the tornado that ravaged their hometown March 2, 2012.
Rachel Peacock and her family were bundled up in coats and blankets along the parade route. While waving to first responders who helped the community and catching candy, she said her family has already experienced healing from the destruction.
“We’ve been able to get everybody together and move forward,” Peacock said. “It just takes one day at a time. We’ve lost some memories, pictures and stuff, but everybody is still here.”
She said some of her family members lost their homes in the path of the EF-4 tornado — which was estimated to run 13 miles long and a half-mile wide.
Lindsey Nierman also was keeping her family warm during the snowy celebration. She said though rebuilding efforts are bringing the town back to normal, there are still obvious reminders of last year’s disaster.
“It’s still sad,” Nierman said. “You still look at the hillside and the treetops, and it still makes you want to tear up with what happened. You see slowly the rebuilding of the community. You see a little progress each day as you drive through town, but there’s still a ways to go.”
Once the parade ended, residents crowded into the gymnasium of Henryville High School, which was almost completely decimated by the tornado. Five months after much of Henryville Elementary and Junior/Senior High School were destroyed, students returned to their newly rebuilt school.
As the tornado tore through the school, students piled into classrooms with teachers and the office of the elementary Principal Glenn Riggs.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence recounted the efforts it took to get the town and the school rebuilt, but also said there was a sense of community that still resounds across the country.
He said after everything that happened, he’s glad to see the Henryville Hornets back in the place they call home.
“And to our fellow Americans from Henryville, we say thank you to them,” Pence said. “We have rebuilt much, we are back in the Hive. But there is more work to do. More lives to be rebuilt, more structures to be completed.
“Because the courage and wisdom of parents, school officials, first responders, neighbors and friends, this community found a way through those agonizing moments and every day since.”
Jason Nierman, Lindsey Nierman’s husband, said even though the community worked together before, the storm strengthened the bond between everyone.
“You tried to help out the most you could,” Jason said. “It made us get to know everyone, even the neighbors we didn’t know before.”
A memorial also was held in Pekin, where five people died. Look for more stories from the two areas at newsandtribune.com and in Monday’s edition.