HENRYVILLE, Ind. (CNS) — As one of the few buildings in town to come through intense storms March 2 nearly intact, St. Francis Xavier Church has become a natural staging area for relief efforts, community organizing and prayer.
Four days after a devastating tornado hit, volunteers and professionals used St. Xavier, the nearby Henryville Community Church and a community center as bases for people trying to put their lives back together.
The town of about 1,600 was one of several in the region to be largely destroyed by a wave of storms that created dozens of tornadoes across 11 states March 2 and 3.
At least 39 people were killed, including one in Clark County, where Henryville and nearby Marysville took direct hits. Deaths also were reported in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Ohio. Substantial damage dotted those states as well as Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, Mississippi, Virginia and South Carolina.
Tracy Guernsey, the staff nurse at Henryville’s public school complex, was among about 40 people still in the building when the tornado hit. She told Catholic News Service in a March 5 phone interview that if classes hadn’t been dismissed early in the face of the advancing storm, the death toll in Henryville would have been dramatic.
She said she and about 15 other people emerged from her office to find the whole second floor of the school had been ripped off. Inside, the papers on her desk were undisturbed.
The tornado hit at the normal dismissal time of 3 p.m., Guernsey said. “The bus drivers were the heroes here. If they hadn’t sent the buses out early, it would’ve been a different story.”