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Henryville tornado affecting severe weather response five years later

HENRYVILLE, Ind. - One day before the five-year anniversary of the devastating tornado that hit Henryville in southern Indiana, severe weather caused more trouble for the community.

Officials at Henryville Junior-Senior High School delayed and then cancelled classes Wednesday morning after strong storms caused wind damage and power outages in the area.

Principal Troy Albert said the school lost power around 6:15 Wednesday morning as buses were already rolling on their routes. Although power was restored about an hour later, administrators decided to cancel classes for the day.

“I do have reports of a lot of trees down, and those will need to be cleaned up,” Albert said. “And power lines are down, so we’ve got to be very careful.”

Henryville High School was destroyed March 2, 2012 when a massive EF-4 tornado touched down and dragged along the ground for more than 50 miles. The storm laid waste to much of Henryville and other communities in its path. The tornado was part of a large outbreak of severe weather across the region that ultimately claimed more than a dozen Hoosiers’ lives.

Albert says he is very aware that many of the people in his community still have anxiety when severe weather is in the forecast. Storms like the ones that hit the area Tuesday night and Wednesday morning are enough to warrant an abundance of caution.

“We practice a little bit more, I think we’re more alert to the weather,” Albert said. “I think this community had a rough night last night, so having no school today was a good thing.”

Five years after the storm that destroyed his school, Albert says students are no longer allowed to be in the hallways during bad weather or drills. Live weather coverage is turned on a TV in the school’s office, and he receives regular weather alerts to his cell phone.

“Weather is part of Indiana,” Albert said. “So what we have to do is be prepared and do the best we can to make sure that we’re safe and that we walk out of here alive.”

A few miles north from Henryville High School, strong Wednesday morning winds did heavy damage to parts of a 200-year old family farm. Dan Smith says he woke up at 6 a.m. to the sound of howling winds outside. Then, he says, the howl became a roar.

“My wife and grandkids went to the basement, and I was standing up there when all this broke loose,” Smith said.

In about five minutes, Smith says his three-car garage was blown off its foundation. A flatbed trailer in the garage was flipped over and debris was thrown 100 yards toward US 31. A large storage shed had also been flattened.

“We feel lucky because nobody got hurt, and actually the house didn’t blow down,” Smith said.

Several of Smith’s family members and friends wasted no time getting to the farm to help sort through the debris and begin the cleanup process.

Smith’s daughter, Tonia Richey, says watching weather coverage as the storms moved into the area gave her a familiar feeling, similar to 2012.

“It kind of really kicked in like five years ago, we were in the same place, just a little further south,” Richey said.

Since the tornado of 2012, Richey says she and her family are much more cautious when bad weather begins to move in.

“We were actually getting ready to leave for work, and my husband said absolutely not,” she said. “And we were at our house and took shelter there.”

After the tornado hit Henryville in 2012, a story of destruction quickly became a story of a community coming together to rebuild. Henryville High School was rebuilt and reopened in time for the following school year. Budroe’s Family Restaurant, which became famous after a Henryville school bus was thrown into it, has rebuilt and reopened. It’s now called Budroe’s Bus Stop.

Those are the stories that Britni Smith, granddaughter of Dan Smith, remembers most. And while the storms this week are a far cry from the tornado of five years ago, she sees a similar response taking shape on her grandfather’s farm.

“I remember how quickly everybody came together to clean up and all the help that came very quickly,” she said. “We’ve already had a lot of help come out this morning.”