Editor’s note: Perry Hunter is the head basketball coach at Henryville (Indiana) High School -- a school that was destroyed by a deadly tornado on March 2. Coach Hunter and his family -- wife Kristi and kids Madison and Brandon -- lived through the tornado and he shared his story of survival on his personal blog.
As many people know, a devastating tornado hit my home town, the town where I coach. Many homes, businesses and the school are gone.
I was in the school when it was hit. I believed that this tornado warning was like all other warnings ... and I didn't take it seriously. I went to a window and saw how dark the sky was and decided I needed to take cover just a precaution. I had received a text message from the girls' basketball coach Josh Conrad that he and his J.V. coach Kyle Lewis were in his office and I decided it might be smart to go there.
As I approached the door, I could hear the wind picking up outside, very loud. As I shut the door, my ears popped, they popped again and then I heard a loud sound that had to be the wall of the gymnasium exploding. At that moment, I hit the ground in the office and covered my head and neck. Within 30 seconds, it was over. There was life before that 30 seconds and our "new normal".
We opened the door of the office and could tell there had been damage to the school, but we didn't know yet how much. We were afraid to go anywhere because we knew power lines were down and there was suddenly water everywhere from a ruptured water line. We eventually made our way out of there and I was struck by how much damage had been done to the building. Tiles down, windows broken and lockers ripped from the wall. If we had students in the halls as is tornado precaution, we would have had a lot of injured and probably deceased students. My wife teaches in the elementary school and my thoughts turned to her. Our children were in Sellersburg and I didn't think we both got hit so I was calm about that, but I ran out of the school to try and find a way to find my wife. The destruction that I saw almost stopped me in my tracks ... it was something you see in a movie or some other community in Oklahoma, Tuscaloosa, or Joplin. Seeing no way in to the school and with it beginning to rain again, I turned and ran back into the school about the time that baseball-sized hail started falling from the sky. We now know it was a second super-cell and that a second tornado touched down, but much weaker and not where I was.
I eventually made my way to the high school office, where the state police escorted us out. We were told to go to the Henryville Community Center next door to the school. I ran ... I found my wife and we hugged. We consoled students and adults, we were consoled ourselves and eventually made our way up highway 31 (after all students were accounted for) to meet up with my father-in-law, who took us home.
In the time after the tornado hit until we headed home, I saw more love and caring from people towards each other than I might see in a year total. Why does it take this? Why does something life-threatening move people to help then -- why not before? Why does it take something like this for perspective on what is important?
The most emotional thing I dealt with after the tornado was thinking of my children. That morning they had acted like a seven- and four-year-old might. Whiny, tired, not listening or moving fast enough for me, so I got really upset with them. I kissed and hugged them before they left, but I let them leave with them thinking I was upset with them. As I headed to school that day, I thought about if something bad happened to me, that the way I acted could be their last memory of me. After surviving the tornado, those emotions hit me over and over -- that I could have left them with that memory of me ... angry ... with them.
So now our community will continue to clean up the mess created by this tornado. The entire school is gone. I can't see how any of it can be salvaged. We have about 11 weeks of school left, but right now, we have no idea what lies ahead. We have lost homes, vehicles, and other stuff, but most of us have what really matters: our family and friends.