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Resilient Ind. town moves ahead year after tornado

Shaan Singh is back in business running a newly rebuilt convenience store and sandwich shop. A once-wrecked elementary and high school complex is back in session. Burgers and fried chicken are being served again at a popular restaurant that had a school bus tossed into its wall.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Shaan Singh is back in business running a newly rebuilt convenience store and sandwich shop. A once-wrecked elementary and high school complex is back in session. Burgers and fried chicken are being served again at a popular restaurant that had a school bus tossed into its wall.

A year after a deadly twister wielding 175 mph winds smashed nearly everything in its path, signs of renewal are everywhere in Henryville. So are the scars.

You'll find them in roofs still covered with blue tarps, on vacant lots where houses once stood. They're on Singh's hands and arm and behind an ear, reminders of the shattered glass that flew as he and his employees hunkered down when the storm roared in last March 2.

But residents of Henryville and other small communities in the rural area about 20 miles north of Louisville, Ky., aren't focusing on the outbreak of twisters that devastated southern Indiana and Kentucky, claiming 39 lives and damaging or destroying thousands of buildings in the two states.

Instead, they're celebrating a remarkable rebirth, marking Saturday's anniversary with a mile-long parade in Henryville that will pay tribute to emergency and cleanup crews who came to the town's aid.

"It's not going to be dwelling on what happened," said Mark Furnish, chief of the volunteer Monroe Township Fire Department in Henryville. "It's going to be more of talking about the present and moving forward."

Moving forward never was a question for Singh, whose business at the edge of town near Interstate 65 reopened in early February.

"That day, God gave me a second chance to live," said Singh, who was tossed into a store counter.

The Henryville school complex, which took a hard hit as some students and staff hunkered inside, reopened just five months after the storm. Near the town's main intersection, a sign on a vacant lot signals the future return of a pizzeria.

Furnish said they're all signs of the town's resilience and determination to recover from the storm, which caused an estimated $100 million in damage in Henryville and surrounding areas. The damage total in Kentucky was even higher, hitting about $250 million in just one county.

"Every time you come off the expressway, there's one less blue tarp on a roof, there's a new business being opened up, there's a new house that people are moving back into," Furnish said.

Even so, he acknowledges the process is a long one, both physically and emotionally.

"You don't have to go very far to stumble across somebody that still needs help," he said. "There are going to be emotional scars that last a lot longer than the rebuilding part."

The work still ahead is obvious along a hard-hit residential street not far from Henryville's school.

On one lot, the foundation and steps to a dwelling that no longer exists are all that remain. Across the street, a Dumpster filled with debris sits in front of an abandoned home. Two new homes have gone up nearby, but across the street is another shell of an empty house with a tarp covering the windows and door.

Ellen Smith lost her mobile home but has rebuilt with a one-story frame house in the same location on that block.

"We've lost a lot that can't be replaced," Smith said. "But that's the way it is."

A few miles outside town, Lenora Hunter also has rebuilt her home, but she had to start over without her husband, Wayne, who was killed in the storm. The couple, who had celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary just days earlier, videoed the storm as it barreled down. With no basement, they clung to each other in their home and expressed their love — the last words they exchanged. The powerful winds tossed them.

Lenora Hunter needed stitches to close cuts to her head. Her husband was found pinned under a refrigerator.

"My whole world was turned upside down that day," said Hunter, who wears his wedding ring on her left index finger.

The storm destroyed Mt. Moriah Church a few miles from Henryville. All that's left are the church's foundation, steps and basement. A handmade sign overlooking the basement proclaims, "His Church Lives!" A cross made of two branches stands near the steps. Across the road, the new church is going up.

As rebuilding continues, some in Henryville have made the devastation part of their future.

Sherman Sykes' restaurant across from the school complex became a symbol of the storm's destructive power. When he and others emerged from the basement that day, he found a school bus sticking out of his eatery.

"We didn't know a bus was in here until we come up and I peeked around," he said. "They thought I got hit in the head with something because they said, 'A bus?' I said, 'There's a bus in the restaurant.'"

Sykes and his wife, Maureen, lost their entire business. Their insurance settlement covered about $5,000 of the $30,000 it cost to re-equip the eatery. One consolation was that they didn't have to pay for the building's repairs. The construction company did the work for free because it used the restaurant as an office while rebuilding the school.

Sykes has changed his restaurant's name from Budroe's Family Restaurant to Budroe's Bus Stop. Photos of the bus sticking out of his business are displayed throughout the eatery as a reminder.

"You can't keep grieving over what you had and you lost," Sykes said while serving up burgers and fried chicken during a recent lunch rush. "You've got to say, 'Well I had it. It's gone. We'll do it again.'"