Henryville, Ind. Tornado Devastates ZID Members' Hometown
Thursday, March 08, 2012
Last year, tornadoes caused major damage in many locations including Yazoo City, Miss., then Askewville, N.C., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and of course, Joplin, Mo. After this past weekend, Henryville, Ind. will be added to this terribly sad list. But, for two NATCA members at Indianapolis Center (ZID), Henryville was different from those other communities.
Henryville was home.
Scott Milner and Ronnie Williams each have over two decades of controller experience at ZID, and both are lifelong Hoosiers. They both grew up in Henryville (pop. 1,905), attended the local high school together, and Milner helped Williams become his co-worker. And then, last Friday, the two of them got the news that their hometown was unrecognizable, the latest victim of unpredictable, early spring weather in the nation’s heartland.
“To me, it’s almost like the tornado took my childhood memories and erased them,” Williams said on Monday. “You grow up there, you come back often, you know what your hometown is, and then in an instant everything you thought was there is permanently changed or destroyed.”
Henryville is a one-stoplight town that hugs Interstate 65, about 22 miles north of Louisville and exactly 100 miles from the ZID facility on the west side of Indianapolis. Around 3 p.m. on Friday, an EF4 tornado, packing winds of nearly 175 mph, tore across the southern Indiana plains, leaving 11 dead and enormous destruction across Henryville and two other towns nearby.
Milner, who still has four aunts and a large extended family in Henryville, traveled there on Saturday and was astonished by what he saw. His cousin is still in the hospital after being thrown nearly 100 yards from the trailer where he and his wife lived. His father’s home was barraged with softball-sized hail, and the high school where Milner and Williams grew up was torn apart, the roof torn off of the gym.
“Pictures and video can’t even do it justice,” Milner said. “You would drive around, and in places there wouldn’t even be debris, the tornado just literally picked up everything and took it who-knows-where. I mean, you know that there was stuff there, and now it’s just gone and that’s just unbelievable.”
But Milner and Williams, whose parents moved out of town a few years ago, said they were touched by the outpouring of support from their fellow NATCA members. After ZID facility representative Tom Thompson sent out an email detailing the situation, Milner said he was overwhelmed with calls and texts from friends asking how they could help.
“So many people have offered time and money and anything else they can do to help out, it’s really amazing and touching,” Milner said. “I got tons of messages from people I’m not even close enough with to have their number in my phone, but here they are offering to drive 100 miles to help the town out and that’s just so great.”
Thompson said these are moments in which the power of union membership becomes very evident, where action transcends the standard working relationship.
“I mean we all feel like we are from there because of [Scott and Ronnie],” Thompson said. “We are like a family, and I told them, ‘there’s a whole lot of us who are prepared to assist through any and all means possible.’”
Williams said the disaster has hurt him, Milner, and the city deeply. But he said nearly every major facet of his life was impacted by these storms, and it has made him take stock on his life and appreciate just what Henryville has given him.
“You are the sum of your experiences,” Williams said. “In my life Henryville, Milner, air traffic control and NATCA are intertwined.”
If anyone would like to contribute to the reclamation effort, they can visit the Clark County Red Cross website click HERE.