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Sullivan faces tough road to rebuild after deadly tornado

SULLIVAN, Ind. (WISH) — There’s slow but steady progress in the recovery of this southern Indiana city from a tornado on March 31.

The coroner identified three Sullivan-area residents who died in the storm: Susan Kay Horton, 61; Thomas Randall Horton, the son of Susan Horton, 38; and Shane Steven Goodman, 47. Eight other people were injured, according to the National Weather Service.

More than two weeks ago, parts of Sullivan hit by the tornado looked completely different. There was a lot more debris, but much of that has been cleared. J.D. Wilson, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, has led the effort. He said Wednesday that the recovery “looks remarkable. Looks great. We’re doing as much as we can and as quick as we can.”

The Sullivan tornado was the strongest of 23 to hit Indiana on March 31 and April 1. Sullivan County saw 13.15 miles of a 40-mile tornado path that crossed the Wabash River from Illinois and entered Indiana about 3 miles east-northeast of Merom. Multiple homes were destroyed.

While some things have changed, city officials say there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The Public Works director recalled watching one neighborhood that was flourishing before the tragedy. “I absolutely remember. I was down here about every day working for the city. I was able to see the streets out here, see them improve, putting up new stop signs and street signs. So, I knew what the area looked like. It was different from what we’re standing here today. It’s … tough.”

Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said Wednesday, “The most heartwarming story that I’m not quite sure can be captured is the resilience and the amazing spirit of this community.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Saturday that federal disaster assistance has been made available to Sullivan County and several other areas affected by severe storms and tornadoes March 31 and April 1.

The Democrat mayor says he’s thankful for the help from the state and federal government. “The entire homes, the entire families that were basically ripped upside down here, they’re not statistics on a paper. They’re not on a spreadsheet to send to the federal government. They’re our friends, they’re our families, they’re our neighbors, so first and foremost they were our top concern.”

The Public Works director added about the recovery, “It’s not a week or two thing. It’s not a month or two. It’s longer term than that. Everybody is different to whatever needs they have. For one person is different to the next person or neighbors, so it’s taken each and every person in getting them back on track.”