A stream of friends and strangers started arriving at the hillside home of 70-year-old Roy Lamar not long after a deadly tornado ripped two bedrooms and a bathroom from his house Friday as he was huddled in the basement with his wife and six grandchildren.
He and his family came out unscathed, shaken but feeling lucky. Before he could even ask for help, a small outpouring of people started arriving with food and water, and chain saws to start clearing the mass of downed trees that once provided a scenic buffer from the road and railroad in front of the home where he’s lived for 25 years.
“That’s the way we do around here,” said Lamar, choking back tears. “We help each other out.”
Up the road at a nearby farm, Steve Marshall was feeling a similar sentiment. A church group had arrived Sunday afternoon, clad in work boots and gloves, and equipped with rakes. They were there to take on the labor-intensive process of scouring his hay fields for broken glass, twisted metal and other debris strewn from the storm. The barn and buildings on his farm were gone and his neighbors’ homes demolished.
“As amazing as the tornado was,” said Marshall, “it’s more amazing that all these people came out to help.”
It may take months, if not years, for communities struck by the storms to recover from damage and heartache. The death toll from Friday’s tornadoes in Indiana is 13. Across 10 states, 74 tornadoes over the course of several days have claimed at least 39 lives. In New Pekin, where Lamar has lived for more than 50 years and the Marshall family has farmed for two generations, a family of five — including three children under the age of 3 — were killed.
But neighbors, friends and strangers haven’t waited to be asked to help. Conrad Moorer, pastor of Northside Church of Christ in Jeffersonville, organized a band of volunteers that headed to Marshall’s farm and Lamar’s home Sunday. Among their tasks: Keep an eye out for the pigs that had escaped from a nearby hog farm after the barn there had collapsed.
Moorer said he still remembers the people who rushed to help his family after a house fire. That was 44 years ago, when Moorer was just 12.
“It’s humbling, having to take help from people you don’t know,” Moorer said. “But after you go through something like that, it makes you want to give back to other people you meet along the way.”
Much of the work needed to be done in coming days and weeks is labor-intensive: Cleaning up the debris strewn for miles around the storm area is a task that will take a long time to complete and often the least attractive job for volunteers, United Way officials said.
That’s why Moorer expects his church members will stay busy for a long time to come.
“There’s a lot of menial work that has to be done,” Moorer said.
But it’s menial work with meaning, he added.
“I guarantee you’ll go home tired and dirty and you’ll ache for few days,” he said. “But you’ll know you helped make somebody’s life just a little bit better that day.”
Maureen Hayden is the CNHI Statehouse Bureau Chief in Indianapolis. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org