Whiteland’s Community Rebuilds After the March 31st Tornado

By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance | | 11.27.23

On March 31st, the Town of Whiteland was impacted by an EF-2/EF-3 tornado that damaged residential areas and the Mohr Industrial Park. Since then, the town has displayed remarkable resilience, rallying together to support their own citizens affected by the storm and expediting the recovery process.

A Long-Term Recovery Group (LTRG) was established in Whiteland shortly after the storm to assist tornado survivors. This local-led coalition comprised community members and organizations addressing unmet needs not covered by insurance, FEMA, or Small Business Administration (SBA) assistance.

Three case managers, hired to work directly with residents, assessed and assisted with their recovery needs. The group emphasizes a steady and supportive presence for affected residents, acknowledging that some may require assistance beyond the immediate aftermath.

The Mohr Industrial Park, particularly Lot 6, was dealt considerable damage by the spring storm. Despite the challenges, the community successfully rebuilt quickly, thanks to collaborative efforts and strategic decision-making.

The rebuilding process for the industrial park presented unique challenges. The primary concern was assessing the extent of the damage and salvaging what could be saved. Mohr's priority was ensuring the structural integrity of the slab, involving multiple groups such as firms Pepper Construction and CBRE, as well as structural engineers and insurance providers.

“Between Mohr, Pepper, CBRE, our structural engineer and the insurance company, Mohr was able to determine the slab was not impacted by the tornado,” said Gary Horn, Chief Development Officer at Mohr Capital.

“Everything else needed to be replaced and timing was critical. We had one tenant in place, and another interested, so the rebuild timeline would dictate Mohr’s ability to salvage these tenants.”

With a tight deadline, Pepper Construction managed to rebuild 80% of the facility in just six months, securing existing tenants and attracting new prospects.

“All parties worked together seamlessly and Sam Fugate with Pepper Construction and Mark Writt with CBRE stepped up to protect Mohr Park,” said Horn. “We could not have done it without Sam, Mark and the entire team in Whiteland. In addition, the Town fully supported and facilitated our rebuild, which was critical.”

Horn has credited much of Whiteland’s swift recovery to the Town’s leadership, particularly that of Carmen Young, Director of Administration, and her team who have led many of the recovery efforts. “Carmen and her team immediately assessed the situation and brought in resources to support the residents of the Town and property owners dealing with a disaster,” he said.

“The day after the tornado, I was in Whiteland assessing the damage to our Park and we met several volunteers from neighboring towns the Town brought in to help,” said Horn. “We found a water line that was broken and a volunteer from Bargersville was at the site and helped shut off the water that was creating a river next to one of our buildings.”

“The Town involved FEMA and set up a command center to triage work that needed to be done. Downed power lines all over Town were immediate concerns and crews were dispatched to secure the area and make the needed repairs. Overall, the Town was lucky there were no casualties. A lot of damage for sure, but things could have been a lot worse,” he added.

From day one, the Town’s leadership team assessed the multiple ongoing situations in Whiteland, brought in resources, and collaborated closely with neighbors and local governments from around Johnson County.

“The entire Town and everyone that was impacted was able to make a quick recovery from debris management due to the cleanup efforts of everyone that helped the first few weeks after the tornado,” said Carmen Young, Director of Administration for the Town of Whiteland. “With the great partners and resources we have in our County and State, we were able to activate the Family Resource Center quickly to help those impacted with their next steps.”

Whiteland's recovery efforts have been a mix of speedy results in some areas and stubborn challenges in others. Insurance settlements and finding suitable contractors have caused delays as the Town tries to secure all properties before winter, but the municipal government eased the permitting process and waived fees for those with property damage.

With a commitment to getting insecure properties "buttoned up" and ongoing repairs for town-owned properties, Whiteland remains steadfast in its mission to overcome the final hurdles of this recovery. The involvement of local school corporations, community partners, utility companies, and numerous volunteers played a crucial role in the Whiteland’s response and resilience.

“The leadership team that was there from day one focused on the tasks at hand, strategized the next steps and were not afraid to let others step in to help,” said Young.

“We also could not have responded as quickly as we did without the great partners from the Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation, Town of Bargersville, Town of New Whiteland, City of Greenwood, City of Franklin and all of the County, State and Federal government entities.”

Whiteland’s leadership utilized a locally led approach to ensure that the Town would make a lasting recovery, and that the rebuilding process would be shaped by the residents and businesses most impacted by the storm.

“I truly believe that when you have the right people in the right positions, you are unstoppable,” said Young.