The Washington Times-Herald

November 23, 2013

Chaos and community on Sycamore Street

By Nate Smith
Times Herald

---- — I am trying to wrap my feelings about this week and the tornado that touched down in our town. There’s many.

The first was the greatness seen by ordinary individuals who came together and brought out the best in our city. First honors is to utility workers who worked to get the city back up with power. They were joined by the force of municipal employees who saw little sleep over the first 48 hours of that storm, starting the process of putting streets like Sycamore and Oak back together. The relief workers, led by the Red Cross and Salvation Army, helped find shelter for those whose homes were either demolished or soon will be in the coming days.

It cannot be understated the role city government played in getting the cleanup going.

Often on this page, various writers sometimes opine on how messed up our government is, and who is to blame for it. This was one of the times where government actually worked. Local, state and even federal government working in concert to come up with a strategy to combat the chaos from a tornado’s touch.

When we first started posting updates on our website and social media platforms, the first comments I started to see was “How can I help?” At first, I started wondering how this outpouring would actually work, but over 600 volunteers from not just Daviess County, but counties all over southwest Indiana, and from states all over came to clean up the debris from the tornado. It would be an understatement to say how much this city owes these volunteers.

This week, local minister Christopher Wiles introduced me to a couple from Henryville who came and volunteered. The couple, whom Wiles met while helping that town through its tornado ordeal a year before, knew what many of the families were going through. They came to help pay it back. There are many stories of groups of friends, neighbors, children and even strangers helping one another this week. If anything, seeing what happened on Sycamore Street restores my sense of community.

But while I have been out there the past few days, there has been one presence that hangs over Sycamore Street and I believe brought out the worst in our city, the rubberneckers.

If you were there, you know what I am getting ready to say. It’s one thing to slow down when you see someone pulled over on the side of the road, or even at a traffic accident. But it’s another to try to drive through the scene of a TORNADO just to SEE at the damage and not get out of your car to help people who may have needed it.

I get it, the power was off and people are naturally curious. But just like the storm that damaged the city’s west side in 2006, and the tornado that ripped through Amish country, curiosity played a real problem for emergency workers the precious hours where, if people were really hurt, would have been in trouble due to all the onlookers in the way.

I watched the state police turn away rubberneckers off the highway near Meridian Street, even though there was a curfew in place Sunday night. Even on Thursday as I was filming two groups of volunteers taking time away from school to clean up, there still were those who’d rather slow down and look than get out and help. A few even drove past some barricades.

In the time it took to grab your keys, you could have grabbed a check to repair homes that don’t have the best insurance. In the time it took to drive down to S.E. 11th Street, you could have picked up a pie for the over 600 volunteers that did help. In the time it took...

I’m wasting my space. Consider this my admonishment. The time for cleanup is almost over, but the time for rebuilding for several families is beginning. They will still need our help. We will continue to share their stories and give you the information and ways to help. Please do.

As we move into our Thanksgiving holiday, take the time not only to give thanks that no one was injured in our tornado, but to thank a city worker you know, or thank a volunteer that came out. Thank a person who donated some items, or thank a person who stayed out of the way.

Nate Smith was proud of the effort his compadres in news did when people needed the information the most. One can email him at nsmith@washtimesherald.com or on Twitter at NateSmithWTH.