|EF 4 tornado leaves path of destruction through Clark County, kills one, injures dozens|
Friday morning began like most Fridays in the local area, many got ready for work while students prepared for the last day of classes before the much needed weekend. Many were aware the afternoon could bring some severe weather with the possibility of tornadoes. No one thought the level of destruction the tornado left was possible, many still cannot believe or even comprehend what they see.
The tornado that left a path of destruction some 52 miles long including leveling parts of Henryville and Marysville has been determined as an EF 4 with winds at 175 mph. The long track tornado formed west of Pekin in Washington County and left a clear path through Henryville, Marysville, Chelsea and into Holton located in Ripley County. Experts have estimated the tornado being approximately 150 yards wide. A second, smaller magnitude tornado brought softball size hail to the Henryville and local area.
Although the tornado left such a long path of destruction, one survivor recalls how quick it was over.
Heather Walter, a member of the New Washington Volunteer Fire Department, was busy Saturday morning as she was coordinating efforts at the Command Center set up at Marysville Hardware, one of a handful of buildings still standing in Marysville after Friday’s tornado.
“It sounded like a Mac truck going 90 miles an hour and then it was over,” Walter stated.
Walter was grateful for the help that was coming to help her hometown. A steady flow of people were coming into the hardware store to offer help, food, and support. Local citizens were bringing food, clothes and personal hygiene items to help their neighbors that lost everything. One man traveled from Indianapolis just to offer a hand in the clean up efforts.
“The amount of help offered has been great,” Walter explained. When asked how she would describe the morning, she said, “controlled chaos.” Walter continued, “They are coming in and asking first what they can do to help, they don’t just go out first.”
As the door to Marysville Hardware kept ringing with the steady flow of people looking to help or just coming to check on their neighbors, Marysville Hardware owners, J.R. and Sue Righthouse were kept busy assisting their neighbors with things they needed or just making sure they had a cup of warm coffee to warm them on the chilly morning. The Righthouses’ son, Scott, was taking care of the register trying to help his parents and the community.
Scott, who now lives in Charlestown, tried to describe what he seen when he traveled back to his hometown and what Saturday morning had been like for him.
“Until you see it, you can’t describe the destruction. It is really something that can’t be described,” Scott stated. “It’s a little crazy. A lot of people are in and out since they made this (Marysville Hardware) a checkpoint. There seems to be more people coming in to see how they can help and a few are getting things they need.”
Right before 12 noon on Saturday a representative from the Catholic Charities checked in at Marysville Hardware to verify what the community’s immediate needs were.
“I am just assessing their immediate needs. I am just contacting them and letting them know we are here and will be for the long haul,” stated Jane Crady, Disaster Preparedness and Response with the Catholic Charities, Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Lunch time in Marysville on Saturday brought a change in the Command Center. The outpouring of love from the local community brought lots of food to feed the citizens, emergency personnel and volunteers. The Command Center was moved to near the Community Center, one of the buildings sustaining heavy damage from the tornado.
The New Washington Volunteer Fire Department was scheduled to host a chili cook off to kick off their Crusade for Children campaign on Saturday. According to Walter, some of the food brought for lunch, were the pots of chili initially set to be in the cook off.
“God works in mysterious ways. He made sure we had food to eat before the tornado even hit,” Walter said.
Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden was also on hand Saturday morning in Marysville as he was checking on all areas hit by the severe weather.
“We are doing the best we can. We appreciate everyone’s offers to help. It is great that everyone is offering to help any way they can,” Rodden stated.
Also checking on what the people need after the tragic tornado was Rep. Terry Goodin. He wanted to make certain if any citizen needed his help or had questions they contact his Indianapolis office at 1-800-382-9842.
“Once the dust settles and once people get their bearings, if they need any help cutting through the agency red tape, they have been through enough already, I want them to contact my office at 1-800-382-9842,” Goodin stated.
He continued to describe what he had seen on Saturday morning, “devastation. It’s undescribable. It’s catastrophic,” Goodin tried to explain.
Although he couldn’t quite explain what he had seen, he could describe the feel, love of thy neighbor and true American spirit he was witnessing Saturday morning.
“It is small town America. As I am walking through the area and asking what I can do, every house I stopped at all the people I talked to, they have lost everything, their homes are completely gone, they all are asking what they can do to help their neighbors. It’s small town America. Neighbors helping neighbors. It’s the true small town American spirit,” Goodin explained. “It is an outpouring of people wanting to help. We’re going to rebuild. We will take the people, the memories of things and rebuild. The people that were taken would want that. The families that lost loved ones and the victims of this are in our thoughts and prayers.”
Goodin also wanted to thank the Greater Clark County Schools for their help.
“I want to thank Greater Clark County Schools Corporation for their help. Travis Haire called me and asked me if there was anything they could do. Transportation was a problem. He has brought a bus down for transportation for the residents. I thought that was classy,” Goodin concluded.
Leaving Marysville and traveling down Henryville Otisco Road the scene was the same. Families trying to salvage what was left of their personal belongings. Again, a clear cut path leveling some homes and damaging many others is all that is left along the country road. Mt. Moriah Church was leveled but the sign just to the right of the entrance was still standing and read, “Have You Talked To Jesus Today?”
Trees that were once old beautiful shade trees now lay down, bent and twisted in piles. Many homes are now just concrete foundations scattered across Clark County as if someone had actually taken a broom and swept them clean.
Henryville has been described as “flattened” by some national news coverage. Saturday morning Henryville’s population of about 2,000 had swelled by the thousands. Cars lined Highway 160 as far as one could see. Emergency personnel were scattered around the part of Henryville being called “Ground Zero.” News vehicles from around the country were sprinkled around with news cameras seen on every corner.
The outpouring of volunteers were also noticeable. A bulldozer driven by one volunteer with two more volunteers standing on the back carried pink totes for victims to store any of their salvageable items, a pick up truck with two young guys handing water and packages of peanut butter cheese crackers to anyone needing a break from the clean up efforts.
The parking lot of St. Francis Catholic Church was full of volunteers offering a hot meal and a drop off point for any of the donated food items.
The parking lot of the church is also where Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Waters was found talking with the citizens of Henryville. Waters is the Henryville School Resource Officer and knows the students in Henryville schools by name. One student stopped by Waters’ car, which shows signs of being pelted by the softball size hail including large dents, a cracked windshield and a hole in the lightbar, and asked if he believed it.
“I can believe anything,” Waters answered Miranda Basham.
“I’m devastated,” Basham said. Basham, a mid-term graduate of Henryville High School, was surveying the damage of her school for the first time. “I was here when it went through but this is the first time I am really seeing it. It’s devastating. It’s scary. Growing up in this town, it’s scary. Nothing can describe it.”
Waters also described the scene as devastating.
“This is the most devastating thing I have ever seen,” Waters explained.
Waters was in Clarksville teaching the DARE program to fifth graders at St. Anthony’s School when he initially heard of the tornado barreling down on Henryville.
“I heard Jerry Crotchett from Borden on the radio saying he was looking at the tornado right then. I was traveling on 65. Due to the impending weather, the program I was teaching was cut a little short so I started back here (Henryville). I was almost at the exit ramp when the hail began. It was softball size hail. I thought my car was going to cave in. Every time it hit my car, it just rocked the car. I just kept moving, I knew I had to get to the school,” Waters explained.
Waters continued, “I couldn’t get to them because of downed electric lines. Once I got to them, the school was already evacuated and they were at the Community Center. Once I got to the Community Center and we all got organized in the center with the help of the State Police, I went back into the building. I went into the building with the fire department and luckily no one was in there. That was my worst fear. We are screaming out and then you were just waiting for someone to answer. It was horrible but luckily that didn’t happen. That’s due to the decision by the West Clark Schools to dismiss early. The students and staff that were in there were evacuated safely due to the quick thinking of the high school and elementary school principals to get everybody to safety and cover.”
Waters was also overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for the Henryville community.
“We have seen so much help from so many and that is a great sight,” Waters said. He was also grateful for a phone call he received earlier Saturday morning.
“Retro Bill called this morning to say he was thinking about us,” Waters added. Waters had worked with Retro Bill recently planning a visit to the school. Retro Bill had planned to come to Henryville in April for a program for the students.
Emergency personnel also converged on the small community of Henryville to see how they could help their fellow neighbors and Hoosiers.
“We have been here since yesterday (Friday) at 3:30ish. We set up the Incident Command Center at Monroe Volunteer Fire Department assisted by the Indiana State Police, National Guard, police agencies throughout the state from as far away as Ft. Wayne and Hope, Jeffersonville Fire Department, McCulloch Fire Department, Clarksville Fire Department, Charlestown Volunteer Fire Department, the American Red Cross have been on scene, Emergency Management, County and State Highway Department, INDOT, just every available agency has come to our aid,” stated Major Chuck Adams, spokesperson for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. “We are now focusing on clean up. At this point we do not have anybody unaccounted for. There has been one confirmed fatality on Speith Road in Henryville. We have dozens of injuries, some of them serious.”
As of Saturday afternoon Adams was asking volunteers to take donations to Silver Creek High School. The donation site was an overwhelming success thanks to word of mouth and the social media site, Facebook. The donation site actually received enough donations to fill several semi-trucks and buses.
Over the weekend, Charlestown High School was also a drop off site and local shelter for families displaced from their homes.
Adams asked the public not to call the Sheriff’s Office to ask how they could help.
“Please do not call our office for the purpose of volunteering. We are flooded with an influx of calls,” Adams stated. “The response is overwhelming. We thank everyone for everything. Henryville will rebuild. This just shows what people can do when they come together,” Adams concluded.
Saturday afternoon the West Clark School Board was meeting to decide what initial steps would be done regarding the students of Henryville Schools. The decision was made to cancel classes for the approximate 1,200 students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade at Henryville Schools for this week (March 5-9). All other West Clark Community Schools including Silver Creek and Borden will hold regular classes this week.
The EF 4 tornado that ripped through Clark County and parts of Southern Indiana including Washington County, Scott County and Ripley County claimed the lives of 13 Hoosiers including one family in New Pekin and one in Henryville. The same storm track claimed a total of 39 lives in Indiana and Kentucky.
According to reports from the National Weather Service, the tornado was ranked among the worst two percent of tornadoes ever recorded.
A police officer helping in the security efforts in Henryville on Saturday morning explained the devastation left by the massive tornado best after talking to an elderly gentleman from Henryville.
“He explained it to me, it is like the jolly green giant off the old television commercial came through there with a sickle bar and just started chopping away with everything, cutting a path,” the officer recalled the conversation he had with the gentleman.
Henryville and Marysville are under a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (at press time).
Boil Water Advisory
Henryville residents are also under a boil water advisory. (at press time).
Country Lake Christian Retreat on Brownstown Road and Charlestown High School, 1 Pirate Place in Charlestown are operating as a shelters according to Adams (at press time).
The following locations have been deemed donation centers by emergency personnel: Silver Creek High School; Rest Area on I-65 at the 22 mile marker southbound; Community Center in Marysville; St. Francis Catholic Church in Henryville on Highway 31 and State Road 160; Command Bus located at Mt. Moriah Church on Henryville Otisco Road (at press time).
Motel Rooms Available
According to Adams he has a few motel rooms that have been donated in Scottsburg for victims of Friday’s severe weather. For more information regarding the motel rooms and their availability please call Major Chuck Adams at 502-817-0343.