Today I witnessed what the collective human effort can accomplish when all differences were put aside to complete a common goal. Why is it that the best side of humanity comes out in disaster?
We arrived in Henryville on March 9th, 2012, seven days after the tornado tore through the town taking with it several homes, churches, and businesses in addition to demolishing the 1600 student high school.
Our first encounter with a volunteer group was a quick "we don't need any more help." We persevered and found a man from another group who willingly received our desire to volunteer. He gave instructions to park the vehicle and meet back under the crosses on the Catholic church in front of their make-shift shelter in the parking lot.
We parked and as my brother, mom, and dad got out of the vehicle we couldn't help but stare at the sheer devastation. I imagined what it looked like seven days ago. The damage from the tornado was only part of it. There were baseball to softball sized hail that put dents in every vehicle that wasn't sheltered.
My dad talked to the Indianapolis Colts group of volunteers and an insurance agency, then we stood under the crosses for a while awkardly assessing the situation. What appeared to be a Mennonite family was helping in the Catholic tent shelter. Those kids are hard workers. I hope to inspire my kids to appreciate hard work like those kids did. I watched the boy and his father sweeping the parking lot as the girls helped mother serve food.
I felt kind of useless standing there as we waited for some guidance. On the way to the porta-jon my brother recognized a friend of the family across the street. His sister lived just a couple blocks away and he was there helping her get a tarp up. That was our opportunity to jump in, and we did.
We arrived at our friend's sister's home on Front street. She had a trailer that was moved about four feet off the foundation. A larger mobile home across the street appeared to be picked up and then just dropped and buckled in the same place. Front street seemed to be in the direct path of the tornado and definitely got the brunt of it.
There was a huge pile of debris in the front yard. Just two houses up one way all the houses were flattened and big machines were processing through them. FEMA gave us instructions to sort out the building materials and the branches into separate piles. So the four of us along with another young couple began to process this huge pile of debris. Huge sections of twisted metal roofing from the school about a half mile away were wound around branches and an electric poll. People just started coming from nowhere. Another man and lady showed up, a guy with a chainsaw came not too long afterwards. This pile of debris could have taken all day to process with our small startup group, but the people kept coming. We had around 15-20 people by the time we were finished.
Next we went a couple houses up the road opposite of the totally demolished homes and began to process a huge pile of trees. This pile looked larger than the debri pile we just came from. It was then, something amazing took place, and I will never forget it. More people showed up and converged on this pile of trees that was probably ten feet tall and spanned an approximate 40x25 foot space. We had three chainsaws cutting down the large branches. Some were making firewood stacks and others were stacking the branches in piles to be picked up later by dump trucks that were making rounds.
The collective human effort in those few minute of 30 plus people was an experience that makes me emotional, to think about the good people can do when they work together for something larger than themselves. A higher calling to accomplish good for others irregardless of the religion or circumstance of the person they are working next to. My heart was warmed to see this outpouring of human care.
I am encouraged by what I saw in people today. Sometimes you watch the news and wonder, "what are people thinking?!" Today I knew what the people weren't thinking, about themselves. I will never forget my day in Henryville and the selfless outpouring of love that manifested itself through willing hands of my fellow human brothers and sisters.