Indiana State University Newsroom

Helping Henryville: ISU sends team to assist in tornado cleanup

March 12, 2012

HENRYVILLE, Ind. - State police staked out the main roads, electrical company employees erected new poles and strung electrical wires to houses roofed with blue tarps as life assumed a new normal for Henryville residents after a deadly tornado swept through the town, destroying buildings, homes and reducing the public school to its skeleton.

A few miles away at the Country Lake Christian Retreat Center, Indiana State University students, faculty and staff contributed to the rebuilding process as they carried chairs, end tables and foosball tables from lounge rooms past tables piled with blankets, shampoo and pillows to make way for boxes of stuffing, cans of soup and boxes of crackers.

"We're helping with the logistical aspects of the recovery," said Greg Bierly, director of the University Honors program. "We're organizing food stores and bedding, both to serve those coming in later waves as they help with the recovery and the people subject to the event themselves."

Occasional heavy rain pounded on the tin roof as ISU volunteers worked with others as emergency services prepared to transition for long-term assistance in Henryville and other tornado-affected areas. The moving and organizing is what it takes to prepare for the weeks of clean up and rebuilding to come. ISU's Center for Community Engagement plans to send at least two additional groups to aid the area on March 23-24 and April 13-14.

"This is a process that will take many months, probably even a couple of years for the town and the community around here to fully recover so it very well may be that we'll have some other groups coming for quite a while," said Nancy Rogers, associate vice president for community engagement and experiential learning.

About 15 members of the ISU community headed to Henryville on Thursday (March 8) while others arrived to volunteer on Friday (March 9) and Saturday (March 10). In all, Rogers estimated about 40 people would contribute hundreds of man hours to helping the recovery in one weekend.

"It's always important work and it's always meaningful work, but there's just something a little more special when it's here with fellow Hoosiers and neighbors," Rogers said about the center's volunteer efforts, which has sent ISU community members throughout the U.S. to help after disasters.

For some volunteers, they returned to home ground to help out neighbors.

Jordan Adams, a junior aviation major from Borden, said the tornado hit his hometown as well as Henryville.

"I figured I'd come help people who need it," he said, adding his family was unhurt by the tornado. "There's been a ton of people that were affected by the tornados. I think it's important that ISU and other people in general get involved and help those who are less fortunate and had damage from the storms."

Bierly also grew up in southeastern Indiana and as a climatologist watched closely as the furious storm targeted his home area.

"I decided to come today because this particular event was etched pretty dramatically on everyone's consciousness over the past week," he said. "Viewing the devastation of the tornado, it's clear that any sort of help will be useful."

Faith Fear, a freshman dietetics major from Terre Haute, gave up an end of spring break trip to Chicago with friends to volunteer.

"This is just like a movie with the way the town looked with a school bus in the middle of a building, metal bent around light poles and the way things were tattered and scattered," she said describing the tornado damage. "This is barely a week after what happened and the fact that people are coming to volunteer in a short amount of time is just more of a blessing to them."

The F4 tornado, with winds hitting 175 mph, stayed on the ground for about 50 miles, reducing to rubble all in its path, including much of Henryville.

"Anytime there is an EF-4 tornado, the damage is nearly complete and extensive in terms of the areal coverage of it as well as how complete the destruction is," Bierly said. "There's a very small statistical number of them approach this strength. When it strikes fully up on a town, it's hard to compare it to anything really. It's wholesale destruction."

Now, ISU has committed itself to helping the students and the communities in southeastern Indiana repair that destruction.

"Indiana State remains committed to serving its region and its community," Bierly said. "There are incoming scholarship students who went to this high school. I think it's an excellent way to further connect to the communities that are connected to us through our academic programs."

"We're also committed to the university being a positive force for community development and economic development and responding to a situation like this, to help get a community back on its feet is certainly an important part of that role," Rogers said.

A tow truck attempts to remove a school bus that the tornado threw into a building in Henryville. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Debris left by the EF-4 tornado in Henryville. ISU Photo Tony Campbell
Sean Carey and Greg Bierly move a foosball table to make room for food donations. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Freshman Sarah Ford organizes boxes of donated stuffing. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell
Freshman Faith Fear organizes cans of food donated in Henryville. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Contact: Nancy Rogers, Indiana State University, associate vice president for community engagement and experiential learning, at 812-237-2334 or

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director for media relations, at 812-237-7972 or