One Year Later: Rebuilding Continues In Tornado-Ravaged Central Illinois
The central Illinois town that was virtually destroyed by a mighty tornado was seeing new life Monday, one year to the day after that devastating storm. chicago.cbslocal.com has published this.
Washington has issued 813 permits to rebuild homes and businesses destroyed by the twister, and many already have moved into new houses.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song returned to Mike Brownfield’s home in Washington one year after it was leveled by an EF-4 tornado, which destroyed or severely damaged more than 1,100 homes. Three people died.
His family huddled on a couch in their basement as the tornado it. His home was nothing more than a concrete slab after the storm. On Monday, that slab served as the foundation for a new two-story house, where Brownfield was waiting for delivery of furniture next week.
The new house also features some upgraded add-ons, including a storm shelter, something that was missing at his old house.
A year after the storm, Brownfield said he has a new perspective on life.
“You appreciate the little things you don’t take for granted,” he said.
After living in a small two-bedroom apartment for the past year, the Brownfields finally get to move into their new house at the end of the week.
Another 160 Washington families already have moved into newly built or rebuilt homes since the tornado. Sarah Wallenfang and her family moved into their home on Oct. 1, and were able to celebrate her son’s first birthday in their new house.
Kellen was only two weeks old when the tornado hit.
“It was a long winter, fighting with everyone, and going through three adjusters, but eventually it worked out for our favor,” she said.
It was not an easy journey. It took baby steps to get there. Like a lot of families in Washington, the Wallenfangs had a lot of trouble dealing with insurance the first few months after the storm. They said it wasn’t until June – seven months later – that their insurance company decided to demolish their home. They managed to build a new one in just four months.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier said he’s excited every day he sees a Washington family move back into their home. At the same time, he said it’s been difficult to see pictures of the devastation left behind as the city prepares to remember the storm that ravaged their town.
“It’s pretty gut-wrenching all over again. You remember exactly where you were, and what you were doing when the tornado entered our city, and those who lost everything, I can’t imagine what today’s going to be,” he said.
Roger Giles also lost his home, and everything in it. He also nearly lost his life.
Standing behind the counter at Advance Auto Parts in Washington, Giles speaks softly, but each word speaks volumes.
“What you have in life can be gone in seconds,” he said. “I went through a tornado, and lived to tell about it.”
Giles was starting fresh, rebuilding the home destroyed last year. Memories of the devastating tornado haunt him to this day.
He saw the dark clouds of the storm from his window, watching as the funnel cloud destroyed other homes in Washington, debris coming right at him as the tornado bore down on his house.
“Well, God, I’m going to either live or die right here,” Giles remembered thinking as the tornado ripped through the town. “You drop down to the floor, and you see all this part of the building just disintegrate, and come right at you.”
A neighbor found Giles unconscious, covered in debris, at least a football field away from his home. Giles spent a month in the hospital, and another five months in physical therapy.
“A hole in my head. There was a big chunk out of my ear. My shoulder was broke. My ribs were broke. I had hold in my lung,” he said. “Sleeping in the same house again; it might be tough, but it’ll be okay.”
It could have been worse. His next-door neighbor was killed when he was flung against a tree.
His new home was far from finished, but Giles said he just wants to get through the day that marks the one-year anniversary of his near death.
“It’s going to be a little bit tough, but I’m pretty tough myself,” he said. “I’ve got back this far. I can get through one day.”
Meantime, tens of thousands of items lost in the tornado were still at the Washington town library, which is doubling as a lost and found so victims of the storm have the opportunity to claim their belongings; including photo albums, wedding dresses, dolls, books, and more.
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