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Together through tragedy

Together through tragedy

By Sherri Coner

Around 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 25, realtor Ray Podesta had just finished showing an open house near Hickory Stick housing addition.

At home his wife, Angie herded their three young children to the basement.

But when Ray got home, he stood near the window of their Center Grove home.


“I didn’t really hear anything,” he said. “I couldn’t see a funnel cloud. It just looked like the clouds were really low over the treetops.”

Near Saddle Club Road and Smokey Row Road, Debbie Sutherland was at home with the dogs while her husband John ran an errand in Franklin.

Like Ray Podesta, she studied the sky.

A funnel cloud suddenly appeared.

The day after a tornado caused miles of damage in Center Grove, Brian Newlin of Bonefish Grill donated nearly 100 meals to families, emergency workers, linemen and volunteers. (Submitted photo)

“It sounded like a freight train,” Sutherland said. “The dogs were trying to dig a hole under the couch. They were terrified.”

As the funnel cloud moved directions, “It went over the top of us and it was like it sucked all the air out of the house,” Sutherland said. “Every window and door popped from the pressure.”

Neighbors on the block behind the Sutherland home lost a pole barn and the roof of their home.

Frantic to check on his wife, John Sutherland was trying to get home.

“It took him an hour to get home,” Debbie Sutherland said.

The horrifying experience lasted no more than three minutes.

Four minutes, tops.

There was thunder, lightning and wind.

But no rain.

Baby clothes were strewn on a neighbor’s lawn next door as if a basket of fresh laundry was spilled on the grass.

John Sutherland found corn stalks – a lot of them – in their backyard.

“I had no idea that a tornado would pull corn right out of the ground and take it,” Debbie said.

Donating food to Fire Station 254 in Center Grove, Brian Newlin of Bonefish Grill and Ray Podesto of Highgarden Real Estate. (Submitted photo)


Online, in the Center Grove Chatter, social media Samaritans warned drivers about impassable roads, such as Travis Road, Mullinix Road and others.

Also on social media, residents worked together to chase away nosy drivers, out for a Sunday drive through other people’s devastation.

Videos were posted of specific vehicles and the drivers who reacted viciously when residents requested they leave the area. Photos of vehicles, drivers and a few license plates, too, were all posted on social media.

Most of these helpers didn’t know the people reading their posts and thanking them for information.

But that wasn’t what mattered anyway.

By Monday morning, the destruction was clearly seen as the tornado path.

Uprooted trees, missing chunks of roofing, vehicles flipped upside down, power lines snaking across neighborhood streets.

Until that sunny Monday morning, these weary Hoosiers never imagined what happened soon after sunrise.

Work boot-wearing angels with chainsaws began to show up.

Online in the Center Grove Chatter, Josh Casse of Martinsville introduced himself as a former Center Grove resident with an open-air trailer and a truck available for whoever needed it.

No charge.

As Travis Road resident RJ Wright surveyed tornado damage, he saw two children singing the National Anthem by his flag, snapped this photo and posted it online. “As a retired 20-year Army veteran, this brought tears to my eyes. I want to thank the parents of these two young siblings for teaching your kids the right way.” (Photo by RJ Wright)

Also on the Chatter, Zane Matthews of Greenwood announced that he was heading that direction with a chainsaw and other tools.

When Allison Anderson found a beat-up but still working cell phone on Whiteland Road near Saddle Club Road, Bridget Halderman was thrilled to claim it as her husband’s, lost in the mess.

With a front-end loader bucket, tractor and a rear grading scraper loaded on a trailer, Avijit Verma posted his equipment on Chatter and patiently waited.

Within moments, addresses popped up of those needing his help.

But also, lots of praise.

Employees at Energy Spot invited residents to enjoy a free drink and cool off in air conditioning.

Neighborhood residents helped each other.

Volunteers organized teams to clear debris by using only their hard-working hands to move lost pieces of furniture, toys and other items carried away from original owners.

At the same time, Brian Newlin, managing partner of Bonefish Grill on State Road 135, cruised toward Fire Station 254 with food boxes stacked in the back seat of his truck.

That’s where Newlin crossed paths with Ray Podesta, who offered a helping hand by paying for more meals and helping to deliver them.

“He’s a community guy,” Podesta said of Newlin. “We probably fed close to 100 people.”

When asked on Center Grove Chatter if he charged for assistance, Zane Matthews responded, “I don’t care if it takes all day or how much gas we use or if the work wears my chainsaw’s teeth down – my help is always free.”

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