Strength after the storm: Mooresville community reflects on rebuilding 1 year after tornado hits town

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MOORESVILLE, Ind. — Thursday marks one year since an EF1 tornado hit Mooresville, leaving behind a trail of damage.

Shane Williams, a member of the Mooresville Town Council remembers the eerie moments as the storm approached.

“I went inside and the windows were shaking and you could really tell it was an unusual storm,” he said. “The power went out and you started hearing the sirens. It was pretty intense down here really fast.”

Members of the community say the silence was deafening in the moments after the tornado passed. As people slowly made their way outside to survey the damage, the only source of light coming through the rain in a dark downtown was police lights.

“It looked like a bomb went off in our downtown, I mean there was debris everywhere,” said Williams.

Facades of businesses fell into the street, roofs were torn off of buildings, windows were shattered, and bricks littered the street.

“Everybody down here I think got their roof ripped off,” said Deb Hutchinson, who owns Zydecos Cajun Actual restaurant on Main Street. “It was surreal. I’ve never been through anything like that in my life.”

Hutchinson said the roof, some windows in her restaurant and other minor issues needed fixed, but it could have been much worse. Her house, right around the corner from the restaurant, had a tree fall on the front of it, which also resulted in damage to her cars.

“I’m still dealing with that,” she said.

Debbie Michaelis, one of three owners of Bran N Shorts Coffee House, said the storm wiped out their entire dining area and the wall that once stood, was found lying in the street.

Michaelis said they were only open for curbside takeout due to restrictions related to the pandemic, so they were spared from any major impacts on their ability to serve customers. They were able to open just one week later, with that part of the building blocked off.

“The support from this community was fantastic,” she said. “We probably did better business during that time than we had been doing before the virus hit.”

Hutchinson said they saw the same outpouring of support from members of the community who made an effort to go out of their way and give back to businesses.

“We were still doing carryout and we were doing it out the back door and it was just crazy busy,” said Hutchinson.

Although the timing of the severe storm coincided with the pandemic, locals say that might be what saved lives on that dark night.

“It’s a horrible thing right, but in this particular instance it saved lives because there was no one in the downtown,” said Williams. “It’s a miracle really that no one was hurt and I’m thankful for it.”

A similar sentiment shared among small business owners Thursday is that looking back, they feel the town responded well to this unprecedented emergency.

“Everybody was just all over it. It was just action, action, action,” said Hutchinson.

Williams said the response was immediate from the street department, to police and fire, and even the town’s parks department. He said the building inspector reacted quickly, employees from the town worked tirelessly, and the school system even used its busses to block off unsafe areas of downtown.

Most of the damaged businesses downtown have rebuilt or received a face lift as they cleaned up from the damage, although several were unable to reopen as of Thursday.

“There are some that still haven’t opened back up and I get questions every day when are they going to open because we miss them and people want them back,” said Michaelis.

She said, “It hurt everybody. It hurt us that we couldn’t see our friends and neighbors open back up again.”

“Most of the town is rebuilt, we still have one building that’s really still damaged,” said Williams.

There is one building in particular, which stands at the corner of Indiana and Main Streets, that is still missing much of the roof and side of its second floor.

As the ceiling fans sit exposed on the building and an empty storefront now sits on the first floor, Williams said the building was recently purchased and the new owner plans to come in and redo it.

“I think if you go to our downtown today, you’ll see the results of that if you compare it to pictures of that night,” he said.

As a result of the storm, he said the town found ways to simplify their emergency response plan to be more direct and straightforward. He said they added capacity to their warning system and ordered more sirens to alert residents in the event something like this ever happens again.

“I think human nature is to try and look for something good, our downtown is going to look the best it’s looked in my lifetime once it’s all redone,” he said.

Small business owners say this past year has shown them the resiliency of the community of Mooresville and the bright future it holds. Downtown has even added several new businesses, during a pandemic.

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