Editor's note: Mark Mabry is a photographer and artist who has found his way to Mercury Radio Arts, Glenn Beck's media company. Shortly after the devastating storms swept across the Midwest and South last week, Mabry hit the ground in Henryville, Indiana, one of the hardest-hit areas. Below are some of his first, stunning pictures from the scene, as well as a first-hand report. Stay tuned to The Blaze and GBTV for more updates, including a report from GBTV correspondent Raj Nair later today.
A day in Henryville is hope therapy. It’s a place where “God bless you” comes out as a prayer rather than acknowledgment of a sneeze.
The drive between Louisville airport and Henryville is relatively void of wreckage. The first sign of trouble is actually a sign. The turnoff sign to Henryville is bent completely backward. A cop directs traffic at the entrance to town, but didn’t seem to be turning anyone away. Every car had an excuse to enter.
The morning hours were relatively quiet. Of the flattened houses it was tough to find the owners. But nearly every house had a dozen or so people picking up family pictures, tossing bricks, and separating what was salvageable. At one home I found the son of the owner.
“Where’s your mom?”
“Oh, she’s resting.”
“Who are all the people cleaning up her house?”
“That ones’ my buddy, she’s our neighbor, I’m not sure who those ones are.”
His response was typical. The man still couldn’t find his cat of 16 years, but was not losing hope, noting that he had put her picture on Facebook and that there were reports of a news station that found a gray cat.
After breakfast the streets got a little crowded so I headed out of town. About a mile from the center of Henryville is a street called Otisco. Driving east on Otisco, I observed the snapped trees that betrayed the angle of the tornado’s approach as it neared the highway. After about a mile, the tornado had met the highway at a young family's house.
Matt, and about 15 hunting buddies, friends, and neighbors, were moving lumber and picking for family heirlooms in a rubble pile that was created when the house left it’s foundation and smashed into the family barn. Matt’s wife got to their basement with their 8 month old child about 10 minutes before their house flew away. His two older children, 5 and 6 years old, were ushered off the school bus by a vigilant driver about 30 seconds before the bus flew 200 yards across a street and into a building. The next day the bus driver came to visit Matt’s house, in tears, checking on the family. Matt offered me a drink and told me how blessed the family had been over the last 3 days.
It was that theme that occurred over and over. Gratitude.
Last week I was in Greece, walking the marble streets of Athens. I spoke with people and observed things generally. Greece was still standing in comparison. But the big difference was that in Greece the buildings were nice and the people seemed dead. In Henryville, the buildings were ravaged, but the people were alive. The hugs and smiles were not hugs of sympathy or feigned hope, but of love. The brotherly kind.
At a church called Mt. Moriah, where Colonel Sanders prayed as a child, there was little crowd digging for “a bookshelf full of treasures." A youth pastor named Matt gave me a half hug and told me about how blessed they had been. Then about a church sister down the street who lost her legs, but was still alive. They gave me a burger and walked me around.
“Whose that?” I asked repeatedly.
“I’m not sure,” was his usual answer.
People just kept showing up from hours away. A landscaper brought tractors, chainsaws, and crew -- everything but an invoice.
Dell, the self-proclaimed best burger maker in the country, towed up his smoker with about 600 burgers and dogs. The sheriffs deputies were doing the same thing about a stones throw away.
All of the smiles and interaction assured me that no Pulitzer would be granted for gripping photographs of a devastated people.
The sentiment was that if this is a curse, we could all do with a little cursing.